Sunday long read: “Poor white Americans’ current crisis shouldn’t have caught the rest of the country as off guard as it has.”

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Nothing glib out of me. Just read. A teaser appears here.

The Original Underclass: Poor white Americans’ current crisis shouldn’t have caught the rest of the country as off guard as it has, by Alec MacGillis and Propublica (The Atlantic)

Two new books—one a provocative, deeply researched history and the other an affecting memoir—are well timed to help make better sense of the plight of struggling whites in the United States. Both accounts converge on an important insight: The gloomy state of affairs in the lower reaches of white America should not have caught the rest of the country as off guard as it has—and mobilizing solutions for the crisis will depend partly on closing the gaps that allowed for such obliviousness.

White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America
By Nancy Isenberg

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
By J. D. Vance

Sometime during the past few years, the country started talking differently about white Americans of modest means. Early in the Obama era, the ennobling language of campaign pundits prevailed. There was much discussion of “white working-class voters,” with whom the Democrats, and especially Barack Obama, were having such trouble connecting. Never mind that this overbroad category of Americans—the exit pollsters’ definition was anyone without a four-year college degree, or more than a third of the electorate—obliterated major differences in geography, ethnicity, and culture. The label served to conjure a vast swath of salt-of-the-earth citizens living and working in the wide-open spaces between the coasts—Sarah Palin’s “real America”—who were dubious of the effete, hifalutin types increasingly dominating the party that had once purported to represent the common man. The “white working class” connoted virtue and integrity. A party losing touch with it was a party unmoored.

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