Study: Working-class whites feel left behind, view American dream as unattainable

CHAMPAIGN, Illinois — Many working-class whites feel as if they’ve been left behind in America, fueling deeply-held resentments, a new study finds.

Researchers in both the United States and the United Kingdom interviewed more than 400 white Americans, who identified as working-class, between Aug. 2016 and March 2017. The team sought to uncover the segment’s true views on a number of sensitive issues, including identity, race, and immigration.

Statue of Liberty in sunset
Many working-class whites feel as if they’ve been left behind in America, fueling deeply-held resentments, a new study finds. (Photo by Lucas Franco on Unsplash)

Many respondents indicated that they felt the “American Dream” to be unattainable, which they attributed to increased levels of immigration and diversity in modern American society. These demographic changes left them feeling culturally isolated, politically marginalized, and economically vulnerable.

Racist ideology among this group was rarely overt; if present, it showed up in the denial of institutional forms of prejudice.

For example, many respondents said that “white privilege” was not a real phenomenon. Rather, working-class whites were victims of “reverse racism” in the form of limited employment opportunities and diminished political platform.

A set of common values, such as honesty, having a strong work ethic, and not depending on government assistance were pervasive among the group surveyed. They viewed themselves as being unfairly stymied in society while racial minorities were being lifted by welfare and other social services.

“It is clear from our study that white working-class communities believe their voices are not being heard — they feel disconnected, disrupted and left behind in the slow lane,” says Harris Beider, a visiting professor at Columbia University, in a news release.

Interestingly, the researchers found that support for President Donald Trump among this impoverished group was not unequivocal. Many indicated having voted for the current president because between he and Hillary Clinton, his candidacy was the “lesser of two evils.”

Beider says that his team’s research demonstrates how the voters who catapulted Trump into office were far from a monolithic entity.

Put another way, “the over-simplistic narrative around white working-class communities is problematic when it comes to building coalitions,” argues Stacy Harwood, who teaches at the University of Illinois. “Our project begins to identify some pathways and reframe the conversation.”

Harwood adds that conversations revolving around race in America are almost always fraught with tension, regardless of one’s socioeconomic status.

Ultimately, she warns, however, that “not doing anything could further deepen the crisis as the country moves to being even more diverse in the decades ahead.”

The full study is available online courtesy of Coventry University.