Working Class: Whose government is it anyway?

http://www.readthespirit.com/ourvalues/wp-content/uploads/sites/17/2013/03/wpid-0925_ov_SNAP_or_food_stamps.jpgThe “food stamp” program is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP). A significant minority of white working-class Americans have used food stamps—more than 1 in 5—but very few college-educated whites have used the service.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. This week, we are discussing a new study of white working-class Americans by the Public Religion Research Institute. Yesterday, we looked at six ways in which this group is distinctive.

Here’s one more important distinction: White working-class Americans are much more likely to think of government as “the” government. Six of ten say it’s “the” government. Only 39% say it’s “our” government. In contrast, college-educated whites are more evenly split. Just over half (51%) say “our” government and the rest say “the” government.

Young white working-class Americans feel especially disconnected—more than seven of ten (71%) think of “the” government. Just over half (51%) 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%) 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 ten (22%) members of the white working class have used food stamps (only 4% of college-educated whites). Nineteen percent of the white working class have received unemployment benefits, along with 15% 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 ten college-educated whites report having visited a park of some sort, compared to 69% of white working-class Americans. Ninety percent of the more educated category has also used a public library, compared to 74% of white working-class Americans.

Do you think government as “the” or “our” government?

What do you think about the relationship between services and taxes?

Do you use parks or libraries?

Please, leave a Comment below.

Originally published at www.OurValues.org, an experiment in civil dialogue about American values.

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