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Unite Here rally for BWI workers in Annapolis, MD. Image: United Workers via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Unite Here rally for BWI workers in Annapolis, MD. Image: United Workers via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

by Barry Eidlin

In the 2016 presidential race, candidates from both major parties are looking for ways to address inequality.

Partly, they must do so because seven years after the 2008 crash, many Americans still aren’t getting ahead, according to several analyses by the Economic Policy Institute think tank. In fact, that’s nothing new. Factoring in inflation, wage growth has stagnated for the bottom 90% of Americans since 1979.

In the campaign ahead, these struggling Americans will be called many things: “forgotten,” “hardworking,” “ordinary,” “everyday,” and of course, “middle class.”

What they will not be called is “working class.” To the extent that anyone refers to the “working class,” it will be as a not-so-coded reference to white, male, blue-collar workers, even though the term can apply to people of both genders, and any race, in many different sorts of work.

This failure to talk about class obscures one of the primary drivers of the growth in income inequality: the decline of labor unions. Research I’ve been conducting on the intersection of political sociology, inequality and social policy suggests that union decline is linked to a political process that has pushed class issues off the table in the US – unlike Canada, where the income gap hasn’t widened nearly as much.

If the current crop of US presidential candidates really wants to address the growing inequality gap in America, getting class back on the agenda would be a good place to start.

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