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Study: Working-Class White Men Earn Less Than In '96

In 1996, the airwaves were ruled by grunge bands, gangsta rap, and pop acts like the Spice Girls. Independence Day wowed audiences with its story of an alien invasion, Scream marked the start of a new horror franchise, Fargo was a classic in the making, and the world was on the cusp of permanent change as people began to access the internet through noisy modems.

Looking back, those might seem like good times -- and white, working class men perhaps miss them more than anyone else. A new study by former Census officials shows that working class white men earn less these days than they did in 1996.

Members of that group saw their income drop by 9 percent from 1996 to 2014, according to the report from Sentier Research.

Sentier defined the group as working white men who do not have college diplomas. In 1996, they earned $40,362 on average, but by 2014 the average salary for non-college-educated white men was $36,787, the study found.

Their fortunes were the opposite of their college-educated peers, who saw their incomes rise from $77,209 in 1996 to $94,601 in 2014.

The study followed 10 groups of men, categorized by age and class, and compared their incomes in 2014 to what they earned 18 years earlier.

Younger men actually earned more than they did in 1996, and their incomes spiked compared to their older peers -- the youngest group when the study began actually saw a rise in income over the 18-year gap, from $32,677 to $38,803.

However, that wage increase wasn't even enough to keep up with inflation -- a worker earning $32,677 in 1996 would have to earn $49,304 to have the same buying power in 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Older men saw their incomes drop precipitously. The oldest group was between 43 and 44 years old in 1996, and 61 to 62 in 2014. Working class men in that age group saw their incomes drop by 47 percent, from $51,491 to $27,230.

For context, men in that age bracket would need to earn $77,691 in 2014 to have the same buying power they did in 1996.

The much-maligned group has been dismissed by politicians and is seen as one of the primary forces driving Republican Donald Trump's presidential candidacy. A CNN poll in early September found about two-thirds of white working class voters favored Trump.

The economic numbers at least partially explain the trend. Meanwhile, 78 percent of white working-class Americans said they believe the U.S. is still in an economic recession as of late 2015, according to a Public Religion Research Institute poll by the Center for Public Integrity.

Kathy Miller, the former Trump campaign volunteer who resigned in September after saying President Barack Obama's administration caused racism, told the Center for Public Integrity in August that working-class Americans feel stuck and left behind.

“They’re just all fed up,” Miller said. “It may be the economy for some, it may be the school systems, it could be health care, it could be immigration, education, it could be anything. They’re just fed up with the direction of our country. Mr. Trump showed up at the right time.”

Sources: CNN (2), Center for Public Integrity, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics / Photo credit: Bill Kimble/Wikimedia Commons

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