Selfishness Made This Problem

The White Working Class

The New York Times published an opinion piece based on a study of death rates of white men. (What about the women? What about men and women of color?)

Unsurprisingly, white men who do not have a college degree have more chronic pain, drink more, report that they are unhappy more often, and have worse health and higher death rates, than white men with college degrees. This was a study between 1992 and 2016.

Pain and class
White working class people have more back and neck pain than college educated whites

When a four-year college degree is the variable, we are mostly talking about socio-economic status. Working class young adults are being squeezed out of college, due to rising tuition and cost of living in general. They cannot afford to not work for four years and go to college. They cannot afford to pay the tuition and fees. They certainly can’t then go into a year or two of unpaid internships in order to compete for entry-level positions in prestigious companies. So, instead, they start work earlier in jobs that are less likely to have big paychecks in ten years.

It is not all about salaries. Some go into the trades; plumbers and electricians can earn good salaries. Some go into manufacturing and earn well. However, management is for college grads, even in traditionally blue-collar work environments.

Some go into the military so that they can use the education benefits to get onto the professional track. That requires that they can stay alive and able bodied and return home. Then they must stay afloat long enough to graduate.

As the Times article tells us:

Other economic research has found that a college degree isn’t simply a marker. Students who attend and graduate from college do better in life than otherwise similar students who didn’t get the same opportunities. Graduates are more likely to be employed, earn more, marry and stay married, be satisfied with their lives, be healthy and live longer. These findings suggest that college itself — both the classroom learning and the experience of successfully navigating college — brings long-term benefits.

All that said, the difference is startling. Look at the charts here.

The difference between the life chances of white working class men and white men who get a college degree  is at the root of the anger that gave us DJT as President. It is an anger that makes sense.

Valid Feelings

The statistics show that the white working class has been ignored through both Democratic and Republican administrations. Why should they trust any political party? Since 1992, and maybe longer, things have been getting worse for them, compared to college-educated middle class white people.


People drop other people into categories. It’s not fair or even all that civil, but it is a psychological tendency we have. Social psychologists have made careers of studying it. One of the terms for this is “othering”. (Read more about othering here).

College educated people may or may not think people who didn’t go to college are inferior. However, they may say and do things that communicate a sense of superiority, whether they feel it or not. They may just be used to using more complex language; they may discuss ideas or authors that the other person never heard of.

It is easy for non-college educated people to feel condescended to. Those “college boys” are elitists. That “othering” goes both ways.

Owning Privilege

People who are still making it in America will naturally make distinctions between themselves and those that aren’t making it in America. Some of this is fair, but much of it is not.

If you are doing all right, ask yourself:

Are you white?

Were your parents college educated?

Did you parents support you financially through college?

Was college affordable at the time you went?

Was your career path supported financially after college?

Did friends or family network for you to get some of your jobs?

All of these things speak to privilege. You probably didn’t get where you are today without the help of other people.

Are you helping other people get a leg up? If you are, are you helping people just like you? This is what it looks like when people (in this case women) work together. 

Unraveling Privilege

College boys and girls. Here are some things to not do, on line or in person:

Avoid condescending comments like, “Everyone knows…” “It’s SCIENCE!” “Didn’t you read…” These assume that anyone who doesn’t know or didn’t read something, or doesn’t trust science is not in command of the facts, of reality.

It also can imply that they are ignorant or stupid. Just stop it. And, if in your head you just said “What if they are just stupid?”, you have a long way to go.

Reading list:

Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth

Flat Broke with Two Goats


American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land 

The Hidden Injuries of Class

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