The image of the working class as white is changing fast. Soon people of color will make up this backbone of the economy. But working-class obstacles are growing bigger.
By 2021, today’s millennials aged 18 to 27 will make the transition to a majority-minority working class. The entire population of working adults with less than bachelor’s degrees will hit this milestone in 2032.
This is the conclusion of a report released today by the Economic Policy Institute, based on projections from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics and Census Bureau. Overall, by 2043, the United States will become a majority-minority nation — majority being people of color — because of differences in birth rates among groups and immigration.
Projections don’t always hold up. One of the appeals presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump is making is to limit immigration. But if today’s trends hold up, the image of angry white guys at a Trump rally being the working class will be history.
Author Valerie Wilson points out that African-Americans and Hispanics are less likely than whites to attain bachelor’s degrees. While wage stagnation has been a problem for the working class going back to the late 1970s, it is especially bad among people of color. The new working class may face even greater lack of opportunity than today (and the report doesn’t even factor in the consequences of automation).
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The report calls for major investments in pre-K-12 education, making college affordable, increased unionization, and other reforms. This won’t come easily in our Cold Civil War, where many members of the white working class don’t feel solidarity with people of color in the same boat and equate unions with communism.
It’s partly an echo of history: In the Jim Crow South, the elites stoked racial hatred even though poor whites and poor blacks had much common ground, and thus posed a threat if they ever got together to make political change.
Today’s Econ Haiku:
That new Russian plane
No disrespect to Moscow
But I’ll take the train