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Black voters were key to Biden’s 2020 win. But money woes make some question their support in 2024


Black voters were key to Biden’s 2020 win. But money woes make some question their support in 2024

Apr 10, 2024 | 3:10 pm ET
By Casey Quinlan
Black voters overwhelmingly supported President Joe Biden in 2020, but some polls show their support now wavering. (Photo by Megan Varner/Getty Images)

Black voters overwhelmingly supported President Joe Biden in 2020, but some polls show their support now wavering. (Photo by Megan Varner/Getty Images)

The economy is top of mind for caregiver and driver Jennifer Garner as the U.S. heads toward the November presidential election.

Garner, 46, lives in Cleveland and can bring in about $800 a week working extra hours at both jobs. But between debt payments on $56,000 in student loans and $1,300 in rent — among other monthly bills — the money doesn’t go far enough.

She voted for Biden in 2020, but says now that she’s researching other candidates — although she has ruled out former President Donald Trump.

Black voters overwhelmingly supported President Joe Biden in 2020 and were key to his win, but as many like Garner struggle to make ends meet now, there is some evidence that Black voter enthusiasm for Biden may be slipping. And Trump is hoping to capitalize on that. He spoke last month at a meeting of the Black Conservative Federation and he argues that Black voters were better off financially when he was in office. Even if Black voters don’t buy that message, voters’ frustration could result in them turning to a third party candidate, Cornell Belcher, a pollster who worked for Barack Obama, told The New York Times.

To counter Trump, the Biden campaign is spending millions on radio ads in swing states at Black-owned and Latino-owned radio stations to point out the administration’s accomplishments, including investments in historically Black colleges and universities through grant funding and the American Rescue Plan Act, the cancellation of student loan debt for 3.9 million borrowers, and reducing Black child poverty in 2021, which it has connected to the then expansion of the child tax credit.

“I have to work two jobs overtime just to even try to cover my rent, which means I have no time to be able to enjoy life, period,” Garner said. “The only way things are going to get better is if people start talking and just let them know the economy sucks. We need better jobs and more money.”

According to a January NBC News poll, 75% of Black voters said they would vote for Biden in the general election this year. In 2020, 92% of Black voters cast their votes for Biden, a Pew Research Center report shows. This criticism of the economy lines up with surveys about Black voters’ financial experiences. 

A May 2023 report from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found that 30% of Black people said their financial situation had worsened over the past year, compared to 44% who said it had stayed the same. Although key economic indicators that economists look to to understand the state of the economy have shown a stable labor market, slowing inflation, and rising wages, it’s clear that many Black voters are still feeling the financial pressure of high prices at the grocery store, an expensive housing market, and the burden of student debt payments restarting.  

On Monday, Biden announced another student debt relief proposal to cancel accrued interest for 23 million borrowers, with up to 25 million receiving some kind of interest cancellation. Under this new plan, 4 million borrowers would also have their student debt canceled entirely and 10 million borrowers could benefit from $5,000 in relief. It’s unclear when exactly the Biden administration will release a formal proposal.

Keisha Deonarine, director of opportunity, race and justice at the NAACP, shares the frustrations many Black voters say they have with the financial burden of student debt. She said before Biden’s Monday announcement that the president needs to push harder to cancel student debt to have a lasting impact on the economic experiences of Black Americans and many other voters. 

“If we really want to think about four-year degrees and we want to think about middle class America, we’ve got to cancel student debt,” she said.

Deonarine said she’s encouraged by the Biden administration’s work to reduce and provide more transparency on junk fees, however, which includes regulations to reduce credit card late fees. She said that could help reduce costs that put stress on voters’ household budgets.

Audrianna Lewis, who voted for Biden in 2020, is one of those voters. She has to budget for high rent and healthcare costs. 

Lewis, 32, works in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, as a customer service representative for Maximus, a government contractor that helps administer Medicaid, Medicare, and other programs. She makes $17.78 an hour and has about $9,000 in student debt. Her rent has gone up from $860 last year to $1,000 this year. 

On top of her climbing rent and student debt, Lewis has asthma and said her healthcare doesn’t sufficiently cover her breathing treatments, which has required her to go into her savings. She said her coworkers are also struggling financially. 

“Some of my coworkers are homeless,” she said. “People are not able to pay for doctor visits and prescriptions.”

In March of last year, Black people’s unemployment rate hit a record low and the economic recovery shows that by historical standards, Black and Hispanic workers have had faster wage growth these past few years. The unemployment rate for Black people has begun to tick up again, but economists say they’re waiting for more data before considering it a long lasting trend. 

But Melanie Campbell, president of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, said the unemployment rate for Black Americans does not tell the whole story. 

“The other part of that message has to do with, ‘OK, I may be employed but I’m still working three jobs just to pay my rent,’” she said.

Sarah Wallace, 49, a Philadephian who lives on Social Security Disability Insurance, says she has to spend the lion’s share of it on $1,500 in rent each month. She voted for Biden in 2020, but said she may vote third party this time. 

“I think Biden sold all of us on his dream to get into the office … And that was that,” she said. 

Wallace said she doesn’t believe the economy has improved under Biden and that she doesn’t see inflation easing enough to make a difference for her at the grocery store.

“Buying food, you’re never buying the most healthy [food] because they’re more expensive. So you kind of have to improvise what you can do, you know?” she said. 

Wallace, who has more than $200,000 in student debt and said she struggles to get Ozempic to treat her diabetes, wants to see political leaders do more on student debt relief and make healthcare more affordable and accessible. 

Workforce data from 2021 shows that 48% of frontline workers at Maximus — where Lewis, of Mississippi, is employed — are Black and Latina women. 

Although Lewis said her pay is better under Biden than it was when Donald Trump was president, she said she still isn’t sure if she’s voting for Biden. Although like Garner, the Cleveland caregiver, she ruled out voting for Trump, she hasn’t ruled out voting for someone other than Biden. 

Garner, who is civically engaged as a member organizer through One Fair Wage, a group that wants to end subminimum wages, said she wasn’t “leaning towards anybody just yet.”

Garner said that although she knows the courts have stopped Biden from moving forward with his more ambitious student debt cancellation plan, she wants to see him do more on the issue and other financial burdens she faces.

“Don’t tell me what you’re going to do. Show me what you’re going to do,” she said.

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