Politics, Moderate



Working class must break free of caricatures and speak for itself

Esther J. Cepeda on

Though it's clear that the demographic tide that has washed over the country has changed the face of labor, what's not so cut-and-dried is whether anyone will become invested in re-framing the working class to accurately reflect its diversity. Or whether it would help or harm the plight of workers.

"Solutions to address the real concerns and needs of working-class Americans must take into account the true makeup of today's working class," Rowell writes.

This is obviously true, but truth is increasingly the victim of political battering rams.

Arguably, the populist right has a vested interest in valorizing the semi-mythical white rural men who toil in manufacturing or construction. There's no doubt that the narrative of them losing standing in their communities is an effective rallying cry for strong national leadership focused on ensuring that those without college degrees have dignified work to do.

However, does the truth of a more diverse working class open the door to more (and more aggressive) complaints that non-whites are "taking" white people's jobs?

And what about the left? Would understanding that the working class isn't merely a group of people who should be written off as racist "deplorables" spur Democrats to prioritize the economic interests of displaced workers of all races?

Or does the elitist sensibility that everyone who lacks a college degree deserves to be left behind in our so-called knowledge economy continue to serve as a blind spot, encouraging reactive policy proposals centered on identity politics rather than thoughtful responses to kitchen-table issues?

And what about the fact that race has the effect of sorting people into "deserving" and "undeserving" poor?

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There are about 2.4 million full-time workers who live in poverty, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released September 2017. If these workers are seen as being increasingly non-white, does that erode public support for policy proposals that could improve their quality of life?

These questions are difficult to answer. And the only way that the working class will be able to fend off being caricatured, over-simplified or taken for granted is for its members to speak for themselves rather than allowing academics, pundits and politicians to speak for them.

Unfortunately, exercising your political muscle is hard when you don't have the luxury of economic stability to support your civic engagement.


Esther Cepeda's email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group



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