In November 2016, Harvard Business Review posted what would become its most popular piece ever, ultimately read by over 3.2 million people. That article was “What So Many People Don’t Get About the U.S. Working Class” by law professor Joan C. Williams. In WHITE WORKING CLASS, Williams expands on her article, offering a primer explaining in plain language why so much of the elite’s analysis of the white working class is misguided, and is rooted in assumptions that she argues can only be called class cluelessness.
“When you leave nearly three‐fourths of Americans without college degrees out of your vision of the good life, they notice,” she writes. “We simply cannot continue to dismiss or deride working class whites; it is neither morally acceptable nor sound political strategy.” Williams explains how most analysts, and the corresponding media coverage, have conflated “working class” with “poor.” All too often, white working class motivations have been dismissed as simply racism or xenophobia. Williams explains how the term “working class” has been misapplied—it is, in fact, the elusive, purportedly disappearing middle class. This demographic often resents both the poor and the professionals. They don’t, however, tend to resent the truly rich, nor are they particularly bothered by income inequality. Their dream is not to join the upper middle class, with its different culture, but to stay true to their own values in their own communities—just with more money.
WHITE WORKING CLASS is a blunt, bracing narrative providing a nuanced portrait of millions of people who have proven to be a potent political force. For anyone stunned by the rise of populist movements, wondering why so many would seemingly vote against their own economic interests or feel like strangers in their own land, WHITE WORKING CLASS offers a necessary way to connect with a crucial set of workers—and voters.