the assumption of responsibility for the welfare of the world
The term ‘working class’, in US discourse, has two distinct meanings, with sizable but far from complete overlap.
In the older sense, the working class is an economic stratum, above poverty but below the middle class. Essentially ‘working class’ is a euphemism for ‘lower class’ and ‘lower middle class’, especially meant to emphasize those who are in fact employed; but workers remain in the working class even during periods of unemployment. Only the long-term unemployed poor are excluded.
In the newer sense, the working class comprises all adults who do not have a college education and are not pursuing one. This has come into frequent use in demographic discussions connected to society and politics, where having or lacking a college degree has proven to be a decent predictor of voting preferences. It is no longer, then, in these uses, an economic classification. Non-college workers can easily fall into the middle class as determined by income, depending on employment. Small business owners, skilled craftsmen and technicians, independent contractors (who are often both small business owners and skilled craftsmen and technicians, such as plumbers and carpenters), manual laborers in certain labor-union-dominated fields (manufacturing, construction, dockworking), and certain traditional occupations like police officer and firefighter, can often earn middle-class income without a college degree.
A significant recent political realignment in the West has centered on college education. In the past, college education, as an important determinant of income, left many college graduates voting for parties on the right of the property spectrum, while many non-graduates, with lower income and often manual-labor jobs, voted for the pro-labor or socialist parties of the property left. The realignment has deemphasized economic issues and raised the salience of cultural issues, so that culturally- and socially-conservative non-college workers have shifted towards the conservative parties on the change spectrum, and culturally- and socially-liberal college graduates have shifted towards the liberal parties. Hence, non-college voters moved to the US Republican Party with Donald Trump, non-college Labour voters in Britain voted for Brexit and then in many cases began voting for the Conservative Party, and anti-immigration parties in mainland Europe have picked up support from former voters of the economic left. Conversely, college graduates have shifted towards the traditional parties of the left or the center-left. While this has happened, though, the parties have mostly retained their economic alignments, meaning that workers who would benefit from redistributive policies are often voting for plutocratic parties, and affluent voters are often voting for redistributive parties.
© O.T. FORD
Home of the Stewardship Project
and O.T. Ford