New Book Sleeping Giant Offers Blueprint to Dismantle Racial and Gender Inequities and Revive the Working Class

Release Date: 
April 5, 2016

There was a time when America’s working class was seen as the backbone of the American economy with real political, economic and moral authority. The new working class, however, has been disrespected and made to feel invisible just as its members have become more female, more racially diverse and employed by industries like fast food, retail and healthcare. The white, elite class has exploited generations of biases about the value of work done by women and people of color to make today’s working class segregated from the rest of society. That’s the argument that Tamara Draut makes in her new book, Sleeping Giant: How the New Working Class Will Transform America.

In Sleeping Giant, Draut grapples with the question of why the new working class – which she defines as the roughly two-thirds of Americans who don’t have bachelor’s degrees – is no longer the center of gravity in our economy, politics or culture. Her research reveals that the answer involves a thriller of a story, complete with greed, malice and deception committed by our nation’s politicians and corporate CEOs. It is a story also laced with a legacy of racism and sexism that undervalues the work done by people of color and women.

Nevertheless, Draut details how workers across the country from retail, fast food, home care and the federal government have been sounding the alarm that they will no longer stand for meager wages and poor working conditions. She investigates recent movements like the Fight for 15 and Black Lives Matter to show how they are shaking up American politics, reigniting a debate about economic and racial inequality, and achieving significant victories, including several minimum wage increases.

To revive economic opportunity, Draut contends that we need a working-class agenda, which she calls “a better deal.” This Better Deal would rebuild our broken labor policies, imbuing them with respect and decency. To achieve a Better Deal to improve living standards for the working class, we need to confront the root issues that hold the working class back – social distance between classes, racism and our nasty inclination to look down on people who are struggling to get ahead.

Draut reveals the necessary components of a Better Deal for workers:

  • We need to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021 and guarantee paid sick days and paid parental leave as benefits for all workers.
  • We need to reinvest in state public higher education to achieve debt-free college for all working- and middle-class students.
  • We need to provide for a full accounting of our nation’s violent racial history and address its legacy in today’s society.
  • We need to reform election procedures to make it easier for all Americans to vote and harder for the rich to buy elections.

Draut uses her personal expertise to draw lessons from history and current research about the state of the American working class. Blending moving individual narratives, historical background and sophisticated analysis, Draut forcefully argues that this newly energized class is far along in the process of changing America for the better, making themselves impossible to ignore and foolish to dismiss.

Draut is the Vice President of Policy and Research at Demos, a public policy organization working for an America where we all have an equal say in our democracy and an equal change in our economy. She developed the organization’s groundbreaking work on household indebtedness, middle-class insecurity and the economic challenges facing young people. She is the author of the critically-acclaimed book Strapped: Why America's 20- and 30-Somethings Can't Get Ahead, which was published in 2006.

“Books about the state of the American working class do not usually fill me with optimism, but Tamara Draut’s thorough and lively report on the ‘new working class’ that inhabits our ‘bargain basement economy’ is a big exception!” Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed, Founder of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project

“Sleeping Giant sets the record straight about what most American workers face every day – and what it’s going to take to win a future where everyone who works hard in our country can thrive. Tamara Draut is telling the stories of today’s working families, especially the growing and diverse group of service and care workers, whose stories politicians and other policymakers need to hear. These workers are demanding a better future for themselves and their children, through movements like the Fight for 15.” Mary Kay Henry, President, Service Employees International Union (SEIU)

“On the eve of the financial crisis, Tamara Draut provided a stirring picture with Strapped of the stagnating wages and rising personal debt that was creating a more unequal – and unstable – economy. Now, a decade later, she’s issuing an equally important and hopefully equally prescient message: America’s diverse new working class is ready to be mobilized behind a bold agenda for economic and political reform. In our populist time, her call could not be more relevant or vital.” Jacob S. Hacker, co-author of American Amnesia and Winner-Take-All Politics