2016 was pockmarked by political pundits claiming that the ultimate failure to win the presidency was the failure to address the needs of the working class, namely those in manual or industrial work. Unfortunately, the repeated use of this term caused a major rift, separating hardworking people with similar needs and goals into two different groups. But looking at this major division, it seems to boil down to a perception problem.
A report in the National Review in January, “California’s Economic Performance Is Hardly a Vindication of the ‘Blue State’ Model,” compared and contrasted the top 10 most populous states for employment. The top five from most to least above the national average, Florida, California, Georgia, Texas, and North Carolina had the top employment growth; Texas, Florida, California, North Carolina and Georgia had the top gross domestic product growth; California, North Carolina, Michigan, New York and Georgia had the highest per capita economic growth. Further, 20 of the 31 states with an unemployment rate* below 4.9 percent voted red this election while nine states plus the District of Columbia, or half of the 20 remaining states/district, with unemployment rates higher than 5.0 percent voted blue. Over the last eight years, current red states have fared reasonably well under a Democratic president, but still, it wasn’t enough.
The discussion of the presidential election results will be ongoing, perhaps indefinitely. But there is an inherent problem in dividing the working class into those who perform manual labor and those who do not, despite the fact that many people worked both blue- and white-collar jobs over their lifetimes. The working class should not be relegated only to those who exert physical strength, but instead should include all those who must wake up every day to earn money for groceries and rent. The working class should be known as those who are scrambling to figure out how to pay for not just their children’s college tuition, but their shoes as well. The working class should be those can’t afford to save up for their retirement or for a down payment on a house. The working class is not just those who get their hands dirty, but instead, the working class is those who must work to live.
At this point, there is no indication that Trump supporters and those who voted otherwise will begin to understand each other or even have a desire to do so. But it’s a disheartening lie we have all told ourselves that the working class is any different than those who work in other, less physical industries. At the end of the day, we are all struggling to survive and thrive, and we all worry about what tomorrow will bring. And if we keep fighting each other, we will all lose. While this country is surely suffering from a deep cultural divide and not necessarily a working-class one, we need to focus on what we have in common rather the differences that distract us from reaching a prosperous future together. In 2017, we hope that we can begin to bridge this working-class divide rather than perpetuate it.
*Unemployment statistics don’t necessarily include the under-employed or those who stopped looking for work.