BOOKS/Alvena Bieri

Working class still matters

George W. Bush and Al Gore -- I hope you are listening to the words "the road to the next successful political coalition runs straight through the forgotten majority." These forgotten voters are the large American working class, mostly white. Ruy Teixeira and Joel Rogers start their book, Why the White Working Class Still Matters (Basic Books, 2000, $27) by defining the great economic divide we're all familiar with: About three-fourths of citizens in this country do not have a college degree, they work in service jobs, technical fields, sales, or clerical jobs, and they have a median household income of about $42,000.

Such a group, if united politically, could change the course of our history. The authors first analyze such topics as voting patterns in past campaigns, common attitudes toward religion, abortion, homosexuality, health care, Social Security, and Medicare. It's a little hard to generalize completely about the beliefs of a group of people comprising millions of the population, but essentially they are saying the forgotten majority don't consistently vote in their own economic self interest, and that is one reason they have been left behind during the recent economic prosperity we hear so much about. Yet neither Republicans nor Democrats have completely understood or recognized "the centrality of the forgotten majority."

So exactly how could this big group of voters be united as a political force? In the last chapter, "Mobilizing the Forgotten Majority," these writers come out firmly for "a new era of strong government" that would truly fulfill the promise of promoting our general welfare as we used to understand the meaning of that word. They reiterate the idea that the recent booming economy has been very good for those at the top but not for the rest of us. We continually worry about a lack of money. They call it the New Insecurity.

They present a familiar, but accurate, litany of needs. We need national health insurance. During the last Presidential campaign we heard that 38 million people had no health insurance. Now it's 44 million, or more. Most people could relate to medical issues. And most could relate to not having enough money for retirement. For many of us, Social Security is just not enough to live on. Not everyone can fall back on the money from a good investment. Fifty-seven percent don't own a single share of stock in or out of a company pension plan. Added problems are the cost of education, job insecurity, the effects of globalization, the lack of affordable day care, limited family time, and overwhelming debt via charging too much on credit cards. I disagree with one point the authors make about using credit. They say that because unemployment is low and a savings account is not valued much anyway that people in general have gone on a "spending spree" lately. I'm afraid that many, many charges on credit cards are for necessities. Most people do indeed live from one paycheck to the next. A new tire, a prescription that turns out to cost $75, an athletic uniform for your son -- you use your credit card.

Teixeira and Rogers challenge both Republicans and Democrats (they don't mention any other parties) to meet the challenge of the new economic insecurity of the great majority of us. Their advice goes mostly from the top down. In summary, they think the people in power need to take some big, firm strides toward making our economy fair to everyone. They don't want us to be content with the tiny, baby steps we have grown used to.

Right now we are hearing lots of promises that sound good. Let's hope whoever is elected will put his money where his mouth is.

Contact Alvena Bieri, 2023 W. 11th Ave, Stillwater OK 74074 or email

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