Contrary to the “Trump Country” stereotype, Howard County isn’t drowning in manufacturing job losses, high unemployment or an opioid crisis. In fact, its unemployment rate the month before the election was just 2.9 percent. The main gripe? Stagnant wages — and a gnawing feeling that people have been working harder and for longer hours while other parts of the country reaped much bigger rewards during the recovery from the Great Recession.
“When Trump said, ‘What the hell do you have to lose?’ a lot more people heard it than just African-Americans,” said Pat Murray, a Democrat who worked 29 years as a press brake operator at Donaldson and now serves on the Howard County Board of Supervisors. “Our wages have been stagnant, and our insurance has gone backwards,” he told me, citing the union-sponsored health plan’s surging deductibles. “We work 50, 60 hours a week because there’s no one to hire.”