Some progressives suggest it’s time to abandon the working class, and rely instead on educated millennials, minorities and professionals as well as globally oriented businesses. And to be sure, white working class voters are in decline, down 5 percent as a share of the vote just since 2014, but they still constitute two-fifths of the total.
But others, notably Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, see potential in the growing numbers of people who work not as long-term employees, but on short-term contracts, with few benefits and no union representation. Research reveals that 20 to 30 percent of the working-age population in the United States labor in this manner.
Often described as the “precariat,” these workers may see government as the only solution to their insecure employment status. The typical Uber driver is not the one seen in ads, the middle-class driver picking up extra cash for a family vacation or to pay for a fancy date; most depend on their “gigs” for their livelihood, and without much success. Nearly half of gig workers in California subsist under the poverty line. In ultra-expensive places such as Silicon Valley, many conditional workers live in their cars.
Unlike workers with steady pay and benefits, those in the precariat — many of them young, lacking good prospects and often socialistically minded — have little to protect. Whether they work for McDonald’s or Uber, they lack health insurance, company backing for further education or any influence on corporate decision-making. A policy agenda of “Medicare for all”, cancelled student debts and forcing companies to put workers could have considerable appeal to such voters.