COLUMN: Working Class: Whose government is it anyway?
A significant minority of white working-class Americans have used Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program "food stamps" — more than 1 in 5 — but very few college-educated whites have used the service.
Editor's note: This post is part of a series by Dr. Baker on Our Values about core American values. This week Dr. Baker is busting myths about white working-class America.
When you think of government, do you think of it as “our” or “the” government? If you think of it as “our” government, you feel some sense of connection to our governing bodies. If you think of it as “the” government, you have a distant and distrustful relationship.
Here’s one more important distinction:
White working-class Americans are much more likely to think of government as “the” government. Six of 10 say it’s “the” government. Only 39 percent say it’s “our” government. In contrast, college-educated whites are more evenly split. Just over half (51 percent) say “our” government and the rest say “the” government.
Young white working-class Americans feel especially disconnected — more than seven of 10(71 percent) think of “the” government. Just over half (51 percent) of senior members of this class feel the same sense of disconnection.
So, how do white working-class Americans feel about government programs and benefits? Surprisingly, this group and college-educated whites tend to agree about the tradeoff of federal services and taxes. A good majority of both categories say the government should provide fewer services and cut taxes.
But many members of both categories say they use government assistance, benefits and resources. Just under half (46 percent) of white working-class Americans have received Social Security benefits or disability payments in the past two years. About a third of college-educated whites report the same. About two of 10 (22 percent) members of the white working class have used food stamps (only 4 percent of college-educated whites). Nineteen percent of the white working class have received unemployment benefits, along with 15 percent of college-educate whites.
Government resources extend far beyond these direct assistance programs. Think of roads, parks, schools, libraries, police, fire, emergency services, national defense, and so on. We often take these for granted and don’t count them among governmental benefits. It’s safe to say that every American benefits from at least some of these.
This study asked about two: use of city, state or national parks and use of public libraries. Here there is a class divide. Nine of 10 college-educated whites report having visited a park of some sort, compared to 69 percent of white working-class Americans. Ninety percent of the more educated category has also used a public library, compared to 74 percent of white working-class Americans.
Do you think of government as "the" or "our" government?
What do you think about the relationship between services and taxes?
Do you use parks or libraries?
Dr. Wayne E. Baker is a sociologist on the faculty of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Baker blogs daily at Our Values and can be reached at email@example.com or on Facebook.