Poor white Americans’ current crisis shouldn’t have caught the rest of the country as off guard as it has – September 2016 Atlantic Monthly article

A September 2016 Atlantic Monthly article, which I came across recently at the Atlantic Monthly website, is entitled: “The Original Underclass: Poor white Americans’ current crisis shouldn’t have caught the rest of the country as off guard as it has.”

It’s a good, thoughtful article, in my view. Here are a couple of excerpts:

  • By the time her account reaches the late 20th century, though, the social and economic texture thins. Instead, Isenberg resorts to cataloguing representations of poor whites in pop culture (Deliverance, Hee Haw, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo) and celebrity politics (Tammy Faye Bakker, Bill Clinton, Sarah Palin), and offers some fairly trite commentary on the current political scene. Isenberg’s history is a bracing reminder of the persistent contempt for the white underclass, but you will have to look elsewhere for insights into why the condition of this class has taken a turn for the worse—and what its members think of themselves, and of the elites who have trashed them for so long.


  • Except they are now further out of sight than ever. As Isenberg documents, the lower classes have been disregarded and shunted off for as long as the United States has existed. But the separation has grown considerably in recent years. The elite economy is more concentrated than ever in a handful of winner-take-all cities—as Phillip Longman recently noted in the Washington Monthly, the per capita income of Washington, D.C., in 1980 was 29 percent above the average for Americans as a whole; in 2013, that figure was 68 percent. In the Bay Area, per capita income jumped from 50 percent to 88 percent above average over that period; in New York, from 80 percent to 172 percent. As these gaps have grown, the highly educated have become far more likely than those lower down the ladder to move in search of better-paying jobs.



Whatever our formative experiences and current circumstances may be, as human beings there are things we can learn from each other.

Through a combination of circumstances, I have had the good fortune to experience times in my life when I was broke. In more recent times, I have not had such experiences.

Why do I speak of a “good fortune”? It’s because – having lived through periods where money is scarce, and periods where scarcity is absent – I have seen the world from more than one perspective. That to my mind is a blessing, which helps to put things into perspective, in a way that works well for me.

I have been reading extensively about topics related to populism, power, authority, inequality, stereotyping, stigmatization, language usage, story management, and the like, in recent years.

Some of what I’ve been reading about, I have written about at previous posts. These are topics that are exceedingly valuable to explore, in my view. I am no expert, with regard to this topic or any other. I just want to make sense of things based on my own capacity for sense making, as best as I can.


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