Posted on January 9, 2021

Looking Out for Working-Class Whites

Lipton Matthews, American Renaissance, January 9, 2020

Editor’s Note: This essay was written by Lipton Matthews, a black libertarian who writes for mainstream publications, such as The Federalist and Intellectual Takeout. 

While the grievances of women, blacks and others frequently make headlines, working-class white people are satirized as uneducated rednecks. Journalists would never use the n-word on blacks, but mainstream pundits rarely exercise restraint when berating the white working-class. It seems that all marginalized groups in America are entitled to sympathy except less successful whites.

White Construction Workers

Credit Image: Paul Keheler / Wikimedia

Ignoring the distress of struggling white Americans can fuel an insidious form of white identity politics. If these forgotten Americans feel that their grousing is unimportant, then they may become easy targets for demagogues hungry for power. Proposing strategies to help people due to their race or sex, even when they don’t need it, is a slap in the face of working-class whites who are suffering. For example, allocating millions to programs to increase the share of women in STEM, when we know that choices of profession are related to the dissimilar interests of men and women is insane. Pandering to every group in America except for working-class whites smacks of racism and snobbery.

Despite constant media lamenting about the plight of black people, the evidence suggests they are making great strides, while working-class whites are being immiserated. According to Tami Luhby in a 2016 report for CNN:

Working class white men saw their income drop 9% between 1996 and 2014, according to a new report from Sentier Research. This group, who Sentier defines as having only a high school diploma, earned only $36,787, on average, in 2014, down from $40,362 in 1996. Meanwhile, college educated white men saw their income soar nearly 23% over the same period, from $77,209 to $94,601.

In contrast, Wilcox et al. wrote in 2018, “black men have made marked progress over the last half-century in reaching the upper ranks of the income ladder. The share of black men who are in the upper-income bracket rose from 13% in 1960 to 23% in 2016, according to our analysis. Moreover, poverty among black men has dropped dramatically over the same time, with the share of black men in poverty falling from 41% to 18% since 1960.”

Similarly, a study published by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis puts the decline of working-class whites in clear perspective:

  • The white working class has declined both in size and relative well-being . . . . 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.

Not only are their incomes dropping, working-class whites are less likely to marry, thus creating more homes in which a father may be absent. Moreover, scholars contend that declining marriage rates cannot be explained solely by economic patterns. As W. Bradford Wilcox and Wendy Wang noted:

The decline of marriage and rise of single parenthood in the late 1960s preceded the economic changes that undercut men’s wages and job stability in the 1970s. Shifts in the culture weakened marriage before shifts in the economy directly affected working-class families . . . . These shifts ended up disparately affecting poor and then working-class men, women, and their children . . . . Because working-class and poor Americans have less of a social and economic stake in a stable marriage, they depend more on cultural supports for marriage than do their middle- and upper-class peers. For example, middle- and upper-class Americans are more likely to own a home, and home ownership stabilizes marriage apart from whether homeowners have a strong normative commitment to marital permanence. By contrast, when marriage norms become weaker, working-class and poor couples — who are much less likely to own a home together — have fewer reasons to avoid divorce. So, the decline in normative support for marriage has affected working-class couples more because they have a smaller economic stake in marriage and have depended more on marriage-related norms to get and stay married. (emphasis in the original)

Furthermore, since there is a lot of evidence that marriage improves the well-being of children, the marriage recession among working-class whites predicts disaster. In a landmark study, Raj Chetty argues that, “Mobility rates are relatively high in areas with high school quality, local tax rates, social capital, and marriage rates.” Strong families build vibrant communities. The failure of working-class whites to establish stable families suggests they will continue to lose ground.

The declining social fabric of white working-class communities has created many maladies. Writing for CBS, Aimee Picchi details the afflictions facing working-class whites:

So-called “deaths of despair” are also taking a toll on the white working class. As first identified by Princeton economists Anne Case and Nobel Prize-winner Angus Deaton, the death rate for middle-aged white Americans has risen sharply, fueled by the opioid crisis, alcohol and drug addiction, and suicide. As a result, over the last three decades, less educated whites have seen declining life expectancy and rising mortality rates.

Despite all this, working-class whites are not considered a disadvantaged group. Though more women than men are employed in America and they get the majority of graduate degrees, many people consider them to be oppressed and call for sex-based affirmative action. But it’s working-class white people who are struggling, so they may deserve class-based affirmative action. The Economist reports that class-based preferences can work:

In the early 2000s, four of Israel’s most selective universities began giving preferential treatment to poorer students, as indicated by an applicant’s neighbourhood and high school . . . . After analysing the academic outcomes of more than 5,000 students, the authors found noteworthy results. The policy had a significant impact on admissions; applicants who met the threshold were 13% more likely to have been accepted to one of the four elite institutions than those who fell just short of the required number of points. Students who were likely to have been admitted in part because of their disadvantaged backgrounds did not fall behind; they had the same average GPA and graduation rate as their peers who were ineligible for the programme. Students admitted through the programme are not falling behind academically, even at the most selective majors.

If Google and many other companies are hiring people because of race and even sexual orientation, there should be no complaints if they promote diversity by hiring working-class whites. Since minorities and women matter so much, why not try to help working-class whites? They might even bring a unique perspective. A racially diverse group of people who all studied at Harvard or Yale probably agrees on everything. Liberals cannot declare that they value equality when they ignore working-class whites. For equality to be more than a cliché, all people must matter.