Over the past 40 years, the global economy has undergone dramatic changes, a shift marked by a decline in protectionist and welfare state policies in the global north, the emergence of non-western economic superpowers, and the expansion of low-wage manufacturing in poor countries. Global restructuring and neoliberal social policy have devastated communities from Detroit to Buenos Aires to Mumbai. Developed countries have experienced a transition from a disproportionate reliance on manufacturing to service-sector employment and corresponding economic instability for much of the working and middle classes. Factories have shut down, well-paying jobs have disappeared, vast communities abandoned and carceral economic landscapes entrenched. Outsourcing and subcontracting of jobs and technological displacement, together with an unrelenting political assault, have eroded the power of labor unions, and contributed to the rise of the “precariat”–a cohort of workers who work part-time, intermittently, or as independent contractors.
Although a broad swath of Americans is affected by these economic trends, communities of color, and especially women of color, immigrants, and LGBTQIA are hardest hit. The politics of race are central to how class is constituted, structuring both the labor market and class hierarchy. People of color disproportionately experience employment discrimination, job instability, wage theft, homelessness, unemployment, deep poverty, and incarceration and the mark of a criminal record. Deeply ingrained racism means that many white Americans believe that higher poverty rates in communities of color are due to racialized ‘cultures of poverty’ or character flaws. The normalization of white supremacy and neo-nazism is a frightening example of how an agenda that purportedly speaks to the working class can take the form of xenophobia, racism, and fascism.