The Original Underclass

Source: Alec MacGillis, ProPublica and The Atlantic, Vol. 318 no.2 September 2016

Poor white Americans’ current crisis shouldn’t have caught the rest of the country as off guard as it has. …..

….. The problems he describes—the reasons life in Middletown got tougher for his mom’s generation than it was for Mamaw and Papaw when they came north for work—have plenty to do with decisions by “governments or corporations.” The government and corporations have presided over the rise of new monopolies, the effect of which has been to concentrate wealth in a handful of companies and regions. The government and corporations welcomed China into the World Trade Organization; more and more economists now believe that move hastened the erosion of American manufacturing, by encouraging U.S. companies to shift operations offshore. The government and corporations each did their part to weaken organized labor, which once boosted wages and strengthened the social fabric in places like Middletown. More recently, the government has accelerated the decline of the coal industry, on environmentally defensible grounds but with awfully little in the way of remedies for those affected. ….