Ron Brownstein has a really insightful article on Yahoo! News entitled Why the white working class is alienated, pessimistic. Brownstein reports on a new survey by Pew Charitable Trusts’ Economic Mobility Project. What the research found is that non college educated whites are, by far, the least optimistic group about America’s economic future. The most optimistic groups: African-Americans and Hispanics. Pretty amazing!
Brownstein writes: What makes these results especially striking is that minorities were as likely as blue-collar whites to report that they have been hurt by the recession. The actual unemployment rate is considerably higher among blacks and Hispanics than among blue-collar whites, much less college-educated whites.
Yet, minorities were more optimistic about the next generation than either group of whites, the survey found. 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.
As Brownstein writes this pessimism is likely a combination of the impact of two permanent trends. First, non college educated whites for the first time are a minority of Americans. Falling from more than 60% of the population in 1990 to 48% today. And second blue collar work increasingly pays less. The article cites a new report that found the average high-school-educated, middle-aged man earns almost 10 percent less than his counterpart did in 1980.
And as you would predict, a declining standard of living combined with the loss of majority status leads to big problems. As Brownstein writes: … although it is difficult to precisely quantify, the sense of being eclipsed demographically is almost certainly compounding the white working class’s fear of losing ground economically. That huge bloc of Americans increasingly feels itself left behind—and lacks faith that either government or business cares much about its plight. Under these pressures, noncollege whites are now experiencing rates of out-of-wedlock birth and single parenthood approaching the levels that triggered worries about the black family a generation ago. Alarm bells should be ringing now about the social and economic trends in the battered white working class and the piercing cry of distress rising from this latest survey.
This, of course, is an even larger challenge for Michigan in that non college educated whites are both a larger proportion here than the nation and because so many of them in the past earned much higher wages that their peers nationally the decline in their standard of living is greater here.
There are no easy answers, but it is a challenge we need to deal with. The country is going to get more diverse and the economy is going to get more knowledge-based. Michigan needs to participate more in both trends if we are to prosperous again. So going back is not an answer. Aligning with the trends is the only option. But in doing so we need to pay more attention to how we go forward in a way that includes non college educated whites.