American Blue-Collar Workers Disappear -- from Congress

By Black, Eric | MinnPost.com, March 7, 2014 | Go to article overview

American Blue-Collar Workers Disappear -- from Congress


Black, Eric, MinnPost.com


According to a famous Lincolnian phrase (from the Gettysburg Address, no less), ours is a "government of the people, by the people...") But if you look at who governs, what we have is a "government of the people by the rich people," Duke University political scientist Nicholas Carnes told a Minneapolis audience Thursday.

For the most part, Carnes isn't talking about the power of the Koch Brothers, George Soros or other billionaire contributors. He's talking simply about the class background of those who hold office.

About 54 percent of Americans have held a blue-collar job for a substantial portion of their adulthood, Carnes has found. The portion of those serving in Congress who come from a blue-collar background is less than 2 percent.

On the other hand, those with a net worth of at least $1 million constitute about 3 percent of the U.S. population. Yet millionaires constitute a majority of the current members of the U.S. House, a supermajority of the Senate, a majority of the current membership of the Supreme Court, and one out of one of the current occupants of the Oval Office.

In fact, at least since World War II, we haven't had a president who worked with his hands for any substantial portion of his life, Carnes said.

Does it make any difference in how they govern? Carnes has studied the voting and legislative history of members of Congress and he says yes, a big difference. Government by the rich leads to government policies "that are good for the haves and not good for the have-nots."

Carnes (who hung drywall in early adulthood and who makes no secret of his sympathy for blue-collar workers) believes that a period spent working in a blue-collar job seems to shape the way a future office-holder looks at the world.

Boehner example

House Speaker John Boehner, he says, grew up in modest circumstances and was the first in his family to go to college. But out of college, Boehner got a job with a sales company and by the time he went to Congress was president of the company. Boehner likes to tell audiences that he looks at issues through the eyes of a small businessman. Fair enough. But when issues like the current hot topic of raising the minimum wage come up, looking at the world through the eyes of a small businessman versus through the eyes of an hourly wage-earner is likely to lead to a different result. …

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