(This column originally appeared in The Guardian)
My home city of Philadelphia has a population of about 1.6 million people, of which about 1 million are registered voters. According to the most recent numbers from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, approximately 75% of voters are registered Democrats and 11% are Republicans. Our mayor, city council and district attorney and most other important political leaders are Democrats. Joe Biden would win by a landslide if the 2024 presidential election were held only in Philadelphia. Of course, it’s not.
Pennsylvania is a big state with a critical 20 electoral votes. In many ways it is a good proxy for how the US as a whole will vote and – as someone who works with businesses across the state – fast-approaching 2024 will be all about the economy.
Drive just 20 miles outside of Philadelphia and you’re no longer in Biden territory; you’ll soon start to see why the Democrats are going to have to fight to keep the state. In neighboring Montgomery, Bucks and Chester counties, the number of Republicans swells. And the further you get from the metropolises of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the more red the state becomes.
In Philadelphia, the top employers are the government, healthcare and higher education. Few of these organizations are directly affected by “Bidenomics”, which is the term for the president’s spending and tax legislation meant to improve competition, protect workers and address environmental concerns. Even in a blue city in a blue state, people here don’t really see the impact.
In the rest of the state, it’s a different story. There, people are mostly employed in the manufacturing, distribution, service and oil industries. Bidenomics has promised billions to the state in years to come, but so far people just see higher prices, higher taxes and continuation of the same racial order as before.
Sure, there are some grants for manufacturers and tech firms in the state, and Pennsylvania is supposedly getting billions in funding, including grants to support “green manufacturing” and money for “hydrogen hubs”, under the Inflation Reduction Act. But that piece of Bidenomics, with its climate-friendly provisions, has targeted the oil and gas industry and particularly fracking – with Pennsylvania being the second-largest center in the country. That industry has seen numerous plant closures with tens of thousands of jobs lost.
Critics of the president’s policies – which have spurred countless workplace regulations, including proposals to expand unionization and increase overtime pay – argue they are a burden to companies that are still struggling to adapt to prices that are significantly higher than when Biden took office.
For individuals, inflation in Pennsylvania is ranging between 3% and 4% while wage growth is about 5%, and that’s good news. But, like most businesses, consumers are suffering with price increases for most staples here – gas, rent, food – that are also higher by double digits from just a few years ago.
In Pennsylvania, the rate of new businesses opening, as in the rest of the country, has risen dramatically. But most of these businesses are actually individuals – freelancers and contractors looking for side gigs – and have no employees. Pennsylvania is actually ranked among the worst states to start a new business in some studies.
People of color, who had hoped to benefit from the Democratic party’s largesse, have not progressed by much. In Philadelphia, only 6% of businesses are Black-owned, even though Black people make up 40% of the city’s population. The numbers are similarly dismal for business owners of color in the rest of the state.
In 2020, Biden won 50.01% of the vote to Trump’s 48.84%, a margin of 80,555, or 1.2%. That’s not a very big margin. Next year’s elections can easily swing against him. He will certainly have support from his fellow Democrats, and there will be many Republicans – like me – and independents who would vote for him rather than endure a catastrophic Trump presidency.
If it does come down to Biden v Trump again, it’s going to be a close one. But it won’t have much to do with Bidenomics.