This article was originally published at Portside. It is framed as a response to a recent article by Barbara Ehrenreich called “What Happened to the White Working Class? The Great Die-Off of America’s Blue Collar Whites“
A recent study by economists Deaton and Case shocked the nation: they found that death rates were rising for middle-aged whites. Working class whites with a high school education or less had death rates go up by a whopping 22% in 15 years. How are they dying? Suicide and substance abuse, brought on by “despair.”
We appreciate Barbara Ehrenreich’s examination of this important piece of our new reality in the Lost Angeles Times. Understanding what’s going among white workers is essential for thinking about organizing strategies. Her analysis is that white men in particular have lost jobs, income, and the personal power that comes with economic security. At the same time, she says, African Americans have made social gains due to federal support for desegregation that allow them access to public spaces and that they are “inching toward equality.” The perceived loss of white privilege – “shit, I’m no better off than a `bleep'” – is fuel to the despair of white workers; they have seen a cut in their psychological wage as well as their actual wages. It is excellent that Barbara has put out this position which can jump-start a conversation that white leftists need to have with each other, and with people of color, about race and class.
In that spirit, we beg to respectfully disagree.Download this piece as a PDF