Last year we set out to conduct research on the white working class. Two goals for this project:1) Attempt to provide a comprehensive look at the economic experiences, cultural outlook, and political orientations of the WWC—in an 18 minute.2) To develop a definition that is efficient and replicable; something we could then use in subsequent surveys.
There are three measures that work as proxies for social class—education, income and occupation—and they tend to overlapping but distinct people which has significant implications for our politics. The definition effects the size (political clout), and their economic and political preferences. For instance, research that uses income as a proxy for finds that white working class are more liberal and prefer Democratic candidates.In the next few slides I’m going to lay out some of the weaknesses of using any one of these approaches—both practical and theoretical(Some scholars have attempted to use a combined approach using education, income and occupation (Abramowitz and Texeira 2009), however critics note that the correlation between these measures is fairly low.)
Income has served as a common proxy for class in much of the recent literature on WWC (Bartels 2008; McCarty, Poole and Rosenthal 2008; Stonecash 2000)Regional and Temporal Bias: Many recent college graduates would fall into the working class category.Occupational Prestige: Using income as a proxy for class ignores how they earned it, their potential for growth and the social prestige derived from their positionOccupation has been shown to be a better predictor of permanent income and wealth than individual income at any one moment in time.“The part-time school teacher, the semi-skilled factory worker, the college student working part-time as a computer programmer, and the self-employed artist might all report the same income on their tax returns. But as salaried, hourly, or self-employed they have different sources of income... and ultimately very different life chances” (Manza and Brooks 1999)
Occupation generally considered the best proxy for social class and among the measures most commonly used.It determines the type of people you socialize with, strongly associated with lifetime earning potential and creates shared economic interests.However…it is very difficult information to collect, 1) Measurement becomes particularly difficult on telephone surveys—only method would be to ask an open-end question.2) No Standard Measure: The sheer number of different professions—which is constantly changing—makes binary classifications incredibly difficult and in some sense arbitrary. 3) Exclusionary: Occupation like income depends entirely on current employment status. Some groups become next to impossible to classify using occupation alone. Manza and Brooks put Retirees, students, disabled and homemakers in the same class category. This is a very large heterogeneous group.
Using education makes a lot of sense…1) It determines your credentials for employment it is closely tied to occupational prestige and job security. 2) The college experience also impacts cultural and political values, it increases tolerance for out-groups3) It is widely available measure.However…. It also shares some problems.1) Education-based definitions invariably over-estimate the size of the white working class. In our surveys they would account for close to half of the U.S. population.2)
Given the numerous problems with income and the logistical challenges of using occupation, particularly on telephone surveys, we opted to base our definition on education.But there were two issues we sought to address:1) The size of the group—we believe that an education only definition was including people it should not2) We wanted to make sure that we were sensitive of people with different employment statuses.
In this section I will compare the unique economic circumstances, and worldview of the white working class to college-educated whites.
- White working class Americans account for 36% of the population; in the two subsequent surveys we conducted the size has remained very close.34% in AVS 201234% in Immigration Survey 201311% slice would also be classified as white working class if we were to use only an education definition
The majority of white working class Americans have HH incomes of $50,000 a year or less, while a quarter earn between $50K and $100K. In contrast, less than 1-in-4 white college educated Americans have HH incomes of less than $50,000; 3-in-10 have incomes in excess of $100,000
Similar patterns emerge in subjective reports of financial well-beingRoughly 3-in-10 WWC report that their personal financial situation is poor; 4-in-10 say it is only fair; so two-thirds say they are doing only fair or poor financiallyIn contrast only about 1-in-3 white college educated Americans report being in similar financial shape; majority say they are doing good or excellent.
The voting priorities of both groups differ significantly.When asked what the most important economic issue was plurality of WWC said lack of jobs; double the number the cited the deficitWCE were as likely to cite jobs as the deficit; one-third mentioned each issueWWC were twice as likely as WCE to say that social security was the most important issue.Interestingly, WCE more likely to cite gap between rich and poor; reflects an interesting dynamic where many WWC who are financially struggling nonetheless do not view themselves as poor and in fact WWC tend to have much more negative attitudes about poor people than WCE
The 2012 election was a fairly quite close race, but WWC voted decisively for Romney.WCE voted for Obama over Romney but by a much narrower marginThere were significant regional differences in vote preferences among WWC; for instance in OH WWC split their vote between the candidates; three-quarters of WWC in the South favored Romney
- WWC more likely to embrace traditional gender roles.- Most Americans disagree that family life suffers when the woman has a full time job; WWC are narrowly divided; WCE overwhelmingly reject this notion.
Americans overall slightly prefer Walmart over target; WWC strongly prefer Walmart; while the majority of WCE prefer TargetFound similar preference differences for Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts
When it comes to race and government assistance there is also a stark class divide.WWC are evenly divided over whether the govt has paid too much attention to the problems of blacks; while two thirds of WCE reject this statement.
Our definition then seems to capture a distinct group at least compared to WCE Americans.Is it necessary; is an educational definition enough? To answer that we will look at the slice of respondents who are included in an educational-only definition but are excluded from ours.
- First, it’s important to note that we are not talking about a trivial number of people. Our definition eliminates 23% of respondents from the education-only definition, who I will refer to as misidentified respondents moving forward.
How do these groups compare financially?Two-thirds of WWC say they doing fair or poor financially, while the majority of mis identified respondents say they are doing good or excellent;They more closely resemble WCE than WWC
Looking at self reported class we see that the majority of WWC identify either as working class or lower class.Only about one-quarter of misidentified respondents identify this way; again they look much more like WCE—21% are upper or upper middle class
- The majority of WWC have HH incomes of less than $50K compared to about one-quarter of misidentified respondents and roughly equal number of WCE
- Nearly half of this misidentified groups is composed of retirees and students, two groups that are problems for using an education-pnly definition.
We also see differences in economic outlook and worldview.For instance, WWC are divided over whether the American Dream still holds true or once held true but not anymore. 6-in-10 misidentified respondents and similar numbers of WCE believe that the American Dream still holds true.
Similar pattern on measures of economic optimism.- WWC are evenly divided over whether America’s best days are ahead of us or behind us, while a majority of misidentified respondents believe that America’s best days are ahead of us, nearly identical to the number of WCE
- One place where we do not see differences between the misidentified respondents is on social issues. On both abortion and gay marriage we see the response patterns between WWC and misidentified respondents are nearly identical; both groups are much less supportive of legalized abortion and gay marriage.
Given the significant differences between the groups we believe that it is preferable to exclude these misidentified respondents from our definition. Particularly because the cost of doing so is not that high.Definition requires the inclusion of three addition questions that can easily be incorporated into a demographic battery.
- Class matters in American society both in terms of identity--how we relate to other social groups--and structuring economic interests and cultural preferences. Despite the fact that we don’t often talk about class in the U.S. research has shown that Americans are fairly class conscious and can be divided effectively according to what socio-economic strata they occupy.- The degree to which social scientists and pollsters could come to some agreement about a defensible methodological approach would help us continue to learn about this important group.
AAPOR Conference 2013
Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEODaniel Cox, Director of ResearchPublicReligionResearchInstituteWHO COUNTS AS WHITEWORKING CLASS?A Proposal for a New ApproachAnalysis by
Many Approaches to MeasuringWhite Working ClassHow to Define White Working Class:- Education: Having less than a 4-year college education (Frank 2004;Brooks 2005)- Income: Lower third of the income distribution (Bartels 2008, McCartyPoole and Rosenthal 2008); household income under $30,000 (Texeiraand Abramowitz 2008)- Occupation: Traditionally blue collar occupation categories (i.e. serviceindustry, construction, transportation) (Manza and Brooks 1999)- Self-Identity: Subjective assessment of social classA New Approach to Defining the White Working Class in America
Why Not Income?Problems with Income:1. Missing Data: In many public opinion surveys 10-15% ofrespondents refuse to answer income question.2. Geographically and Temporally Biased: Does not capture variationin living costs between different regions or community types (i.e.Chicago, IL vs. Jackson, MS) and at different life stages.3. Household Size: Many income measures are based on overallhousehold estimates, do not capture variation in household size.4. Retirees, Unemployed: Does not account for retirees or theunemployed often on modest fixed incomes, may not reflect theirlevels of educational attainment or past occupational prestige.5. Occupational Prestige: Does not take into account differences inoccupational prestige and earning potential between occupations (i.e.adjunct professors, professional tradesmen).A New Approach to Defining the White Working Class in America
Why Not Occupation?Problems with Occupation:1. Difficult to Collect: It is very time consuming and expensive tocollect occupational data; very few datasets include occupationalquestions.2. No Standard Measure: Unlike education and income, which bothhave fairly standardized categories, there is little agreement aboutwhich occupational categories should be included or how they shouldbe grouped.3. Retirees, Students, Disabled, Homemakers: Similar to income,occupation is dependent on being employed. These groups are notcurrently employed in an occupation, yet account for a significant, andin the case of students, a growing part of the American adultpopulation.A New Approach to Defining the White Working Class in America
Why Not Education?Problems with Education:1. Too inclusive: Close to half of the country identifies as whiteworking class based on this definition.2. Generationally Biased: Rising levels of education means that olderrespondents are far more likely to be categorized as working class,even if in many respects (income, occupation prestige) they do not fit.3. Some-College Problem: Many education measures include a “somecollege” education category that includes current 4-year students,college dropouts and people with 2-year associate degrees.A New Approach to Defining the White Working Class in America
A New Education-Based Definition ofWhite Working ClassRequires a total of three questions, in addition to race and education.- Basic Requirements:- 1) white, non-Hispanic- 2) No 4-year college education- Supplemental Requirements:Employment Status Additional RequirementEmployed Have a non-salaried positionUnemployed/Retired Had a non-salaried positionHomemaker/Disabled NoneStudent Identify as working or lower classA New Approach to Defining the White Working Class in America
I. A PROFILE OF THEWHITE WORKING CLASSSizeEconomic CircumstancesPoliticsCultureA New Approach to Defining the White Working Class in America 7
Size of the White Working ClassA New Approach to Defining the White Working Class in America 8
Household Income by Social ClassA New Approach to Defining the White Working Class in America 9
Financial Shape by Social ClassA New Approach to Defining the White Working Class in America 10
THE 2012 ELECTIONEconomic Issues Influencing Vote ChoiceThe 2012 VoteA New Approach to Defining the White Working Class in America 11
Economic Issues in 2012 ElectionA New Approach to Defining the White Working Class in America 1243191214643333517101Lack of jobsThe budget deficitSocial SecurityThe gap between rich and poorTaxesWelfareNote: Among those who said economy was most important issue to their voteSource: 2012 American Values Survey, October 2012Economic Issue Most Important to Your Vote (2012)White Working Class White college educated
2012 Vote by ClassA New Approach to Defining the White Working Class in America 13503353486546All Americans White Working Class White college educatedSource: 2012 Post-election American Values Survey, November 2012The 2012 Vote Preference(Among Voters)Barack Obama Mitt Romney
CULTURE AND WORLDVIEWRaceGender RolesConsumer PreferencesA New Approach to Defining the White Working Class in America 14
Traditional Gender RolesA New Approach to Defining the White Working Class in America 15404928574767All Americans White Working Class White college educatedSource: Race, Class and Religion Survey, 2012Family life suffers when the woman has a full-time jobAgree Disagree
Target vs. WalmartA New Approach to Defining the White Working Class in America 1648563040336012 11 11All Americans White Working Class White college educatedSource: Race, Class and Religion Survey, 2012Prefer to Shop at Walmart or Target?Walmart Target Both/Neither/DK
Government Assistance to MinorityGroupsA New Approach to Defining the White Working Class in America 17405032574665All Americans White Working Class White college educatedSource: Race, Class and Religion Survey, 2012Government has paid too much attention to the problems ofblacks and other minoritiesAgree Disagree
II. COMPARING NEW DEFINITION TOSIMPLE EDUCATION DEFINITIONEconomic CircumstancesMarital StatusEconomic OptimismSocial IssuesA New Approach to Defining the White Working Class in America 18
New Definition vs. Education OnlyDefinitionA New Approach to Defining the White Working Class in America 19
Financial SituationA New Approach to Defining the White Working Class in America 20335263664635010203040506070White Working Class Misidentified respondents White college educatedCurrent Personal Financial SituationExcellent/Good Fair/Poor
Self-reported Social ClassA New Approach to Defining the White Working Class in America 21521 25385155412418163 10102030405060708090100White Working Class Misidentified respondents White college educatedSelf Reported Social ClassUpper/Upper middle class Middle class Working class Lower class
Household IncomeA New Approach to Defining the White Working Class in America 223316 112517131617191437 460102030405060708090100White Working Class Misidentified respondents White college educatedHousehold IncomeLess than $30,000 $30K - $50 $50-$75K More than $75K
Employment StatusA New Approach to Defining the White Working Class in America 2320362131074176711 3840 45590102030405060708090100White Working Class Misidentified respondents White college educatedEmployment StatusRetired Student Homemaker Unemployed/Disabled Part-time Full-time
Economic OptimismA New Approach to Defining the White Working Class in America 24475963473832010203040506070White Working Class Misidentified respondents White college educatedViews About the American DreamStill holds true Once held true, but not anymore
Economic OptimismA New Approach to Defining the White Working Class in America 254655574636348 9 80102030405060White Working Class Misidentified respondents White college educatedAmericas Best Days are...Ahead of us Behind us Depends/DK
Similarities on Social Issues: Abortion &Gay MarriageA New Approach to Defining the White Working Class in America 2650 516343 4258010203040506070White Working Class Misidentified respondents White college educatedSocial IssuesAbortion should be legal in all or most cases Favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry
Definition RequirementsRequires three questions in addition to standard education andrace/ethnicity questions.1. Employment: Which of the following best describes your currentemployment situation – employed full-time, employed part-time,retired, a homemaker, a student, unemployed but looking for work, orunemployed and not looking for work?2. Job Payment Type: Which of the following best describes how you[IF RETIRED OR UNEMPLOYED, ASK: “got”] get paid at work?Are [“Were”] you paid an hourly rate, paid a salary or paid by the job?3. Social Class: If you were asked to use one of these five names foryour social class, which would you say you belong in? Upper-class,Upper-middle class, Middle class, Working class, or Lower class?A New Approach to Defining the White Working Class in America
ConclusionA New Approach to Defining the White Working Class in America 28Advantages:1. Cost: PRRI’s definition requires the inclusion of only three relativelyshort questions.2. Validity: PRRI’s definition produces a group that has uniqueeconomic experiences and a distinct cultural worldview3. Reliability: PRRI’s definition produces extremely consistent resultsboth in terms of group size, demographics and attitudes.4. Comprehensive: Despite the use only a few questions, the definitionis able to include the entire adult population. Does not exclude anyonebased on employment status.5. Parsimonious: The definition includes as few measures as possiblewhile retaining significant leverage over an education only definition.