Three Demographic Findings on the White Working Class

So much has been made about white working class voters since the last election, but some of the common notions about that group are wrong. Three quick points are worth making:

1. Most members of the white working class live in cities & suburbs, not rural areas. Max Ehrenfreund and Jeff Guo explain that

While it is true that the white working class outnumbers white [college] graduates in rural America — and the election did highlight a huge urban-versus-rural divide — many of them also live in and around cities.

A Post analysis of Census data shows that there are 62 million working-class white adults living in the metropolitan footprint of a large city with a population of over 250,000. There are just 37 million white adults with bachelor’s degrees living in these metropolitan areas.

Many working-class whites might live in outlying counties, but their neighborhoods are still intimately connected with the economic and social life of the nearby city. Metropolitan areas are defined as regions in which at least a quarter of a county’s population commutes to the city or elsewhere in the metropolitan area for work.

Via If you’ve ever described people as ‘white working class,’ read this. (Underlying data from U.S. Census.)

A small town like Whitewater may have many white working class residents, but most members of the white working class don’t live in small towns like Whitewater. (The largest group of residents in Whitewater, of any demographic, would be students at our local university. Non-student residents aged 25-65, for example – working class or otherwise – are a smaller population.

2.  Working class whites (nationally) have lower church-attendance rates than other white Americans. Peter Beinart explains that

Since the early 1970s, according to W. Bradford Wilcox, a sociologist at the University of Virginia, rates of religious attendance have fallen more than twice as much among whites without a college degree as among those who graduated college. And even within the white working class, those who don’t regularly attend church are more likely to suffer from divorce, addiction, and financial distress. As Wilcox explains, “Many conservative, Protestant white men who are only nominally attached to a church struggle in today’s world. They have traditional aspirations but often have difficulty holding down a job, getting and staying married, and otherwise forging real and abiding ties in their community. The culture and economy have shifted in ways that have marooned them with traditional aspirations unrealized in their real-world lives.”

Via America’s Empty-Church Problem @ The Atlantic. (Underlying data from Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and W. Bradford Wilcox, Andrew J. Cherlin, Jeremy E. Uecker, & Matthew Messel, No Money, No Honey, No Church: The Deinstitutionalization of Religious Life Among the White Working Class.)

Sound demographics contradict the assumptions of both secular progressives and religious conservatives that secularization produces, necessarily, a more liberal population. Not at all: many supporters from this key, right-leaning Trump constituency have relatively weaker ties to religious institutions.

(This reminds of a key observation of Yair Rosenberg concerning online trolls backing Trump: they’re often nihilists.)

3.  The greatest beneficiaries of a government safety net are working class whites. Tracy Jan explains that

Working-class whites are the biggest beneficiaries of federal poverty-reduction programs, even though blacks and Hispanics have substantially higher rates of poverty, according to a new study to be released Thursday by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Government assistance and tax credits lifted 6.2 million working-class whites out of poverty in 2014, more than any other racial or ethnic demographic. Half of all working-age adults without college degrees lifted out of poverty by safety-net programs are white; nearly a quarter are black and a fifth are Hispanic.

The result does not simply reflect the fact that there are more white people in the country. The percentage of otherwise poor whites lifted from poverty by government safety-net programs is higher, at 44 percent, compared to 35 percent of otherwise poor minorities, the study concluded.

Via The biggest beneficiaries of the government safety net: Working-class whites @ Washington Post. (Underlyling data from Isaac Shapiro, Danilo Trisi &  Raheem Chadury, Poverty Reduction Programs Help Adults Lacking College Degrees the Most, Center on Budget and Priorities.)

Millions of working-class whites rely on public assistance programs for their well-being. There’s much to consider about how and when government should provide assistance, but it’s simply false to contend that working-class whites don’t rely on these programs.

Local discussions in Whitewater about the supposed economic cost of diversity are grounded in error: in Whitewater, significant numbers of white working-class residents certainly use these programs to their benefit. (The false local assumption: “The feedback indicated while the community valued a diverse population, there also was a recognition that there is a funding cost associated with a diverse environment, often associated with socio-economic status or a lack of educational opportunities prior to arriving in the district”.)

A policy discussion founded on this supposed ‘recognition’ is a discussion founded on an incorrect foundation (although a false foundation that may be satisfying, perhaps, to a few among the community’s majority).