Friday, May 27, 2011

The White Working Class Loses Faith

Ron Brownstein reads the latest Pew Poll on Americans economic attitudes and concludes that white people without college degrees are "the most pessimistic and alienated group in American society."
One question asked respondents whether they expected to be better off economically in 10 years than they are today. Two-thirds of blacks and Hispanics said yes, as did 55 percent of college-educated whites; just 44 percent of noncollege whites agreed. Asked if they were better off than their parents were at the same age, about three-fifths of college-educated whites, African-Americans, and Hispanics said they were. But blue-collar whites divided narrowly, with 52 percent saying yes and a head-turning 43 percent saying no. . . .

In the most telling result, 63 percent of African-Americans and 54 percent of Hispanics said they expected their children to exceed their standard of living. Even college-educated whites are less optimistic (only about two-fifths agree). But the noncollege whites are the gloomiest: Just one-third of them think their kids will live better than they do; an equal number think their children won’t even match their living standard. No other group is nearly that negative.
And the thing is, these folks are not necessarily being pessimistic. If current trends in income and inequality continue, the bottom half of American society will not be getting richer. The optimism of Hispanics is probably related to the experience of immigrants, while many black Americans have watched barriers fall and can imagine a world in which their incomes rise to be equal to those of whites. But, honestly, the economic future of Americans without special skills does not look so great.

As an aside, I think it is a mistake to treat "college educated" and "non college educated" Americans as social classes. People with mediocre grades from obscure colleges are not much better fixed for the future than high school graduates, whereas people with skills like welding or finish carpentry can earn good livings. Plus, nowadays many families include both kids who finish college and kids who do not. So to divide these groups as if they were ethnicities obscures the real situation.

No comments: