October 31, 2012
In a New York Times article with the headline “Ohio Working Class May Offer Key to Obama’s Reelection,” the reporters explain that “Mr. Obama’s ability to prevent erosion among working-class voters may be his best path to re-election.”
Given how rarely working-class Americans have been discussed by candidates and the media this election season, I was glad to see a NYT article focusing on them. In the 2006 General Social Survey, about 46 percent of Americans self-identified as “working class” and a roughly similar number self-identified as “middle class,” so they’re not a small group.
But then I read the second paragraph of the article, which made clear that by “working class” the NYT actually meant “white voters who do not have college degrees.” The real working class includes African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans, but you won’t know if from reading this article—or pretty much all of the media coverage of the “working class.” In fact, as the chart below shows, the majority of blacks and Latinos self-identify as working class, while the majority of non-Latino whites self-identify as middle class. Also worth noting, whites who self-identify as “working class” are substantially more likely to have education beyond high school—nearly 1 in 5 have a college degree or higher—than working-class blacks.
Source: Author’s tabulations using General Source Survey Panel (2006 Sample) Wave 3.