My father was a machinist at a steel factory for 29 years. A white male who wore a hard hat to work, carried his lunch in a pail and washed his dark blue uniform at the end of every day, the metallic and earthy smell lingering in the laundry room. He was America’s hero, part of the brawny working class who soldered, heaved and secured America’s industrial might in the world, earning the pride and respect of our nation.
That working class is dead, Detroit’s bankruptcy providing a blunt symbol of its demise.
Things are not the same for today’s working class families. Wages have stagnated and protections for workers have eroded significantly. The result is that many of today’s working class families are struggling to simply keep food on the table.
“The things [that I had] have completely evaporated [for the working class],” Draut says. “My ability to educate my way out of the working class – that door has been shut for the new generation.”
I’ve been talking to the new working class — people who overwhelmingly work in America’s ever-expanding service sector — as part of the research for my new book,Sleeping Giant. Unlike the previous industrial-based working class, today’s home health workers, janitors, retail salespeople and fast-food clerks are more female and more racially diverse — and they mostly clock i
Unless we can coalesce around the need for a much higher quality of life for the new working class, then anyone who isn’t truly affluent will continue to live on a precipice of economic anxiety and insecurity.
Every four years we Americans become spectators in a circus known as the presidential election. For most of us, participating in the process of electing the next president involves watching televised debates, discarding flyers from local and state candidates, and muting the slugfest known as campaign advertising. We’re spectators in the sense that we are watching, listening, and processing the event, but most of us remain far from the table of influence, which is increasingly reserved for a very small, very white, very male, and very rich group of individuals.
Over the last decade, an increasing number of cities and states passed laws limiting the use of credit checks in hiring, promotion, and firing. These laws have been motivated by the reality that personal credit history is not relevant to employment and that employment credit checks prevent otherwise qualified workers with flawed credit from finding jobs, and that unemployed workers and historically disadvantaged groups, including people of color, are disproportionately harmed by credit checks.
The campaign money chase makes the sliver of Americans who donate large sums the most important citizens, and they are both unrepresentative (90 percent of 2012 presidential donors were from majority-white neighborhoods) and, by definition, doing well in our inequitable economy.