Cleaning the Ivory Tower

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Book Chapter

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Publication Title

Rugged Individualism and the Misunderstanding of American Inequality


Increasing attention has been paid to the White working class in the U.S. in recent years. This attention is due in large part to the ways in which structural transformations in the American economy over the past few decades have impacted their lives, as well as their reactions to these changes. Many live in regions that have been negatively impacted by the "trauma of a simultaneous economic, social, and political collapse" (Gest 2016:10). Today's economy demands more educational attainment and different types of skills than were expected of workers in previous generations, at the same time that union protections have been eroded significantly, shifts that have left many working-class Whites behind. As a result, White working-class incomes and benefits have declined in recent decades, and their economic insecurity has increased (Luhby 2016; Draught 2018). As Michele Lamont notes, "their living standards are in long-term and uninterrupted decline," and as a result, "the ideal of social success may appear increasingly unreachable to them" (2000:2).


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