I hate the term “white working class” or (WWC) because it ignores the plight of working class members from other racial and ethnic groups. Nevertheless, the term has importance, but it can be somewhat misleading. When we speak of the WWC we should not see there plight only through the influence of economic restructuring in the manufacturing sector. Their plight must also be seen through the lens of geographic isolation and a deficiency of human capital.
The issue of the WWC, I argue is as much a matter of the conditions of the rural United States. By the 1950s, the majority of the United States had become urban/suburban dwellers. Still, the conditions of rural places were not as dire then as they are today. Since the 1980s, there has been a steady decline in the rural United States (economic opportunities, population, and social well-being). This transformation has largely been ignored by politicians, journalists, and sadly my own profession of social scientists.
As we saw in this most recent election, there has been a festering resentment among rural residents and thus a significant segment of those identified as the WWC over this real form of non- consideration. Although they are a shrinking population which underscores some of the reasons why social scientists are few and far between in exploring their social issues, as the electoral college recently demonstrated they are still a voting block that must be recognized (no accident that the GOP picked up states with larger rural populations). This is where Democrats and Liberals have failed and I say this a proud Liberal who is a registered Democrat.
In January, Alana Semuels wrote the following linked piece for The Atlantic. Speaking as a sociologist, this is wonderful anecdotal glimpse into this growing divergence in lived experiences that can educate on the “why’s” the WWC is abandoning the Democratic Party and why the educated classes are being framed as a pejorative elite. Enjoy 😊 Kent Bausman, Ph.D.