Working-Class, White Men See Incomes Drop: How Is That Changing America?

Christina Beck, Christian Science Monitor, October 6, 2016

Income levels among white men without a college education have dropped by nine percent over the past two decades, according to a new study by Sentier Research, contributing to ongoing concerns about the working class in America.

The study, which examined income levels among white college and high school graduates found that although income is climbing for those with a college education or better, working-class white men are being left behind.

This widening gap in income and purchasing power for such a large slice of American society has had a sweeping effect on everything from social trends to politics to life expectancy, and disaffected members of the white working class are making their feelings known.

“You have men who see themselves as the primary wage earners for their families, but jobs that can support that no longer exist,” says Ileen DeVault, the director of the Worker Institute at Cornell University, “and the jobs available working at McDonalds or as a personal caretaker are not appealing or well paid enough. It makes white working class men feel more attacked.”

Sentier researchers examined and compared wage and salary income per individual for college graduates as well as high school graduates in two different age cohorts, and found that while high school graduates overall saw their incomes drop by nine percent between 1996 and 2014, white male college graduates saw their incomes rise by 23 percent over the same period.


Michigan State economics professor Charles Ballard tells the Monitor that part of the problem is the awareness of what once was possible for white working class men. {snip}


Mr. Coder tells the Monitor that the study’s results also reflect individuals who fell out of the labor market during the last recession and have yet to return. Some experts say that this workforce disengagement affects their participation in society.

“When white men disconnect from the workforce, they also disconnect from social institutions,” Georgetown University professor of public policy Harry Holzer tells the Monitor, “which can lead to unstable or nonexistent marriages or drug problems like the opioid epidemic. We’re seeing things in the white male population now that we saw in the African-American population decades ago.”


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