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What Republicans Know (and Democrats Don’t) About the White Working Class

There’s an important social and economic divide that drives working-class whites that progressive elites mostly miss — to their political peril.

Ever since J.D. Vance became the Republican Senate nominee in Ohio, journalists and pundits have been preoccupied with how Vance’s politics have shifted since the 2016 publication of his memoir, Hillbilly Elegy.

In his memoir, Vance pitted two groups of low-status whites against each other—those who work versus those who don’t. In academic circles, these two groups are sometimes labeled the “settled” working class versus the “hard living.” A broad and fuzzy line divides these two groups, but generally speaking, settled folks work consistently while the hard living do not. The latter are thus more likely to fall into destructive habits like substance abuse that lead to further destabilization and, importantly, to reliance on government benefits.

Vance has not renounced that divisive message. He no doubt hopes to garner the support of the slightly more upmarket of the two factions—which, probably not coincidentally, is also the group more likely to go to the polls. While elite progressives tend to see the white working class as monolithic, Vance’s competitiveness in the Ohio Senate race can be explained in no small part by his ability to politically exploit this cleavage.

As a scholar studying working-class and rural whites, I have written about this subtle but consequential divide. I have also lived it. I grew up working-class white, and I watched my truck driver father and teacher’s aide mother struggle mightily to stay on the “settled” side of the ledger. They worked to pay the bills, yes, but also because work set them apart from those in their community who were willing to accept public benefits. Work represented the moral high ground. Work was their religion.

Jennifer Sherman.
Sherman

Vance and my parents are mere anecdotes, yes, but scholars, including sociologist Jennifer Sherman of Washington State University, have studied folks like them in both urban and rural locales and have documented the phenomenon they represent.

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Politico

Racism drives environmental inequality — but most Americans don’t realize

Survey finds that most people think poverty is why pollution disproportionately affects Black people, despite evidence that racism is the major cause.

Most Americans do not think that Black people are any more likely to be affected by pollution than white people, despite significant evidence that racism is a root cause of environmental injustice in the United States, a survey has found.

Dylan Bugden.
Bugden

Numerous research papers over the years have shown that people of colour and poor people are significantly more likely to live in areas of high pollution — a result of the deliberate construction of polluting industries in these communities, says Dylan Bugden, an environmental sociologist at Washington State University in Pullman.

But Bugden found that respondents to the survey were more than twice as likely to identify poverty as the main cause of environmental inequalities, instead of blaming structural racism. This is despite scientific evidence clearly demonstrating that “race, rather than poverty, is the primary factor behind environmental inequality”, notes Bugden in his study, published in Social Problems. Additionally, many people suggested that a lack of hard work and poor personal choices were responsible for increased exposure to pollution.

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Nature
Scientific American
WSU Insider

Stepping up for students ‘just like me’

Forty-one years after being accepted to WSU — and after donating about $31 million to students in need of tuition help — Gary Rubens earns his degree in Pullman.

Gary Rubens first considered attending college in 1981 after he graduated from Issaquah (Wash.) High School, but even after being accepted to Washington State University he found the cost of the college education too much to afford.

Rubens instead chose to enter the workforce, where he would build a successful lighting supply company, ATG Stores, based in Kirkland, Wash., which he sold to the Lowe’s Corporation in 2011.

This sale got him thinking about what he wanted to do next.

“I thought back about what I wanted to do to help others and I just realized that I should really focus on helping people that are just like me, that have high potential but low opportunities,” Rubens said.

More than four decades after he graduated high school, Rubens walked across the stage at the Washington State University commencement ceremonies in Pullman to receive his degree in the social sciences with a focus on psychology and sociology.

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Moscow-Pullman Daily News
WSU Insider

WSU women to attend national leadership conference this summer

Seven women who hold teaching, research, and administrative roles at WSU will receive nationally recognized leadership training and development under a new effort launched by the university.

Kimberly Christen.
Christen
Christine Horne.
Horne

From the College of Arts and Sciences, Christine Horne, a professor in the Department of Sociology; and Kim Christen, a professor and director of the Digital Technology and Culture Program, were selected to participate in the program.

Nominations were made by WSU System President Kirk Schulz, WSU Pullman Chancellor, Provost and Executive Vice President Elizabeth Chilton, Todd Butler, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Kate McAteer, vice chancellor for academic and student affairs at WSU Tri‑Cities. Chilton is an alumnae of HERS’ Leadership Institute and has served as a faculty fellow for the program.

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WSU Insider

Service workers’ volatile shifts linked to high‑cost debt

Time, more than money, appears to influence whether service sector employees end up turning to so-called predatory lenders.

A study by Washington State University and Harvard University researchers found service employees’ unpredictable work schedules played more of a role in their reliance on high-cost debt than their income. Service employees work in industries such as retail, food service, grocery and hospitality as well as delivery and fulfillment – with many in the study sample working for the nation’s largest retail employers, Amazon and Walmart.

Mariana Amorim.
Amorim

“The experience of schedule volatility is pretty common among service sector workers,” said Mariana Amorim, WSU sociologist and lead author on the study in the journal Sociological Science. “We found that the more schedule volatility people experienced, the more likely they were to take out expensive loans, such as those from pawn shops and auto-title lenders—or they use credit cards in ways that are problematic.”

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WSU Insider
Phys.org