Attention all political reporters and editors. If you don’t know about the Center for Working-Class Studies at Youngstown State, in Ohio, I urge you to bookmark its blog (Working-Class Perspectives) and check it frequently as the primary campaign unfolds. Below is a sampling of the latest, directed squarely at you, from John Russo, who runs the center. Read the full post here.
Most journalists covering electoral politics define the working class as those without a college education. That definition is widely used, not only by reporters but also by some scholars and political analysts, in part because it’s easy to measure. I caution reporters that if they use this definition, then the working class seems to be shrinking as more people attend college. While some commentators have suggested that this shift makes the working class less important politically, I argue that this is simply a statistical shift. These days, many working-class people have at least some college education, and the working class continues to matter in American politics. In part because of that, I try to help journalists understand why class is not just a matter of education. It also has to do with occupation, income, wealth, and - among the hardest aspects to measure - culture.
At the same time, I remind reporters that class is not the only identity that might affect how people view political candidates and issues. For example, white working-class men might well view economic and policy issues differently from white working-class women or black working-class men. I also try to help journalists understand that the working-class varies politically by region and state, in part because other issues, like race and types of employment, shape working-class cultures. When we add religious affiliations and social values, things become even more complicated, but that’s the point. I want to encourage reporters to get beyond their assumptions and stereotypes when they write about working-class voters and issues.