Sunday, September 30, 2018

It Ain't Easy Being White Working Class

With all the talk about "white privilege" and how white working class voters supported Trump out of racial resentment, the actual material situation of these voters tends to get lost. A useful corrective is supplied by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis as part of their Demographics of Wealth series. This essay, The Bigger They Are, The Harder They Fall: The Decline of the White Working Class, points out:
"The white working class has declined both in size and relative well-being. Uniquely among major socioeconomic groups, the white working class decreased in absolute numbers and population share in recent decades. At the same time, the five measures of well-being we tracked all deteriorated for the white working class relative to the overall population. The shares of all income earned and wealth owned by the white working class fell even faster than their population share.
Neither race nor education is sufficient alone to explain the decline of the white working class. White college graduate families are doing very well, suggesting that factors related to identifying as white are not sufficient to explain the decline. Education and class also don’t provide a full explanation: Hispanic and black working class families made some progress on many measures, while the white working class regressed.
A more plausible explanation for the decline of the white working class is their diminishing set of advantages relative to nonwhite working class families in terms of high school graduation rates, access to relatively high-paying jobs, and freedom from explicit workplace discrimination."
In related news, there has been renewed attention to the mini-recession that occurred in 2016. Neil Irwin had a nice writeup in the New York Times of, as he puts it, "The most important least-noticed economic event of the decade". He observes:
"In 2015 and 2016....[t]here was a sharp slowdown in business investment, caused by an interrelated weakening in emerging markets, a drop in the price of oil and other commodities, and a run-up in the value of the dollar.
The pain was confined mostly to the energy and agricultural sectors and to the portions of the manufacturing economy that supply them with equipment. Overall economic growth slowed but remained in positive territory. The national unemployment rate kept falling. Anyone who didn’t work in energy, agriculture or manufacturing could be forgiven for not noticing it at all....
[T]he mini-recession might well have affected some political attitudes during the 2016 election. While the economy was in pretty good shape for people in large cities on the coasts, 2016 was rough for a lot of people in local economies heavily reliant on drilling, mining, farming or making the machines that support those industries."
It ain't easy being white working class. White professionals on the coasts, who love to blame everything on the white working class' irredeemable racism, would do well to remember this.
STLOUISFED.ORG
The white working class in the U.S. has slipped in income and wealth, population, and several measures of well-being. The latest…

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