Understanding the Shifting Meaning of Working Class

Understanding the Working Class | Demos
The working class today is much more complex and diverse than the white, male, manufacturing archetype often evoked in popular narratives.

As the manufacturing footprint in the working class has shrunk, so has the white male archetype that has historically defined the working class. And as the share of private-sector workers in unions shrank along with those jobs, and working-class jobs became more diffuse and spread across numerous sectors, the idea of a coherent working class has lost its force.

Put simply, the working class shifted from “making stuff” to “serving and caring for people”—a change that carried significant sociological baggage. The long-standing “others” in our society—women and people of color—became a much larger share of the non-collegeeducated workforce. And their marginalized status in our society carried over into the working class, making it easier to overlook and devalue their work.

Women and people of color have made great strides in the past 50 years, but there’s no turning away from the reality that our society is still organized along relatively rigid gender and racial hierarchies. As the quality of the new jobs being created in America continues to deteriorate, the inequities by race and gender are further exacerbated.

Nearly twice as many women as men work in jobs paying wages below the poverty line.

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