The best books on what has happened to the American working class

Who am I?

I’m a sociologist who studies American family life. About 20 years ago, I began to see signs of the weakening of family life (such as more single-parent families) among high-school educated Americans. These are the people we often call the “working class.” It seemed likely that this weakening reflected the decline of factory jobs as globalization and automation have proceeded. So I decided to learn as much as I could about the rise and decline of working-class families. The books I am recommending help us to understand what happened in the past and what’s happening now.


I wrote...

Book cover of Labor's Love Lost: The Rise and Fall of the Working-Class Family in America

What is my book about?

In recent years, I have followed national survey data which showed that the stable, marriage-based working-class family of the past was weakening before our eyes. I wanted to understand why, so I dove into the history of the working-class family; and I also looked in-depth at what has happened recently as the good factory jobs that supported most working-class men, and some working-class women, moved overseas or disappeared into computer chips. The result is my book, Labor’s Love Lost. I hope that Shakespeare isn’t upset about what I have done to his title.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Blue Collar Aristocrats: Life-Styles at a Working-Class Tavern

Andrew J. Cherlin Why did I love this book?

LeMasters hung out at a tavern in Wisconsin from 1967 to 1972, talking to factory workers who held well-paying, unionized jobs in the heyday of American industrial production. Working-class lives are so different now that I wish I could enter a time machine and travel back to the 1960s and talk to working-class men then. LeMasters’s book is as close as one can get to doing that. He describes the outlook of the tavern regulars on their work, their families, and the world around them. Despite their prosperity, they express attitudes about public life that, in some respects, would not sound out of place in a focus group of working-class adults today.   

By E. E. Lemasters,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Blue Collar Aristocrats as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“LeMasters’ book is a valuable and popularly written source of information on the attitudes of working class men and women. Highly recommended.”—Library Journal



Blue-Collar Aristocrats is a major statement about a group of Americans too little understood and too long ignored by by the country's decision- and policy-makers. Thanks to the work of E. E. LeMasters, we now have a rare and human insight into the lives, feelings, attitudes, and problems of America's blue-collar aristocrats—one that has the potential both to add to our knowledge and to contribute toward solutions to some of our nation's broadest social problems.



“LeMasters has…


Book cover of Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis

Andrew J. Cherlin Why did I love this book?

Fast-forward to the 2010s, and political scientist Robert Putnam returns to Port Clinton, Ohio, where he had graduated from high school in 1959. He finds a sharp contrast between the kids who are growing up in middle-class homes with college-educated parents who are doing well and the kids who are growing up in working-class families who aren’t doing nearly as well. The working-class parents no longer have access to the well-paying industrial jobs of a generation earlier, and their children don’t have the advantages that come with steadily-employed, decently-paid parents. Putnam also probes the academic literature on the split between the situations of children in working-class versus middle-class families.

By Robert D. Putnam,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Our Kids as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A New York Times bestseller and "a passionate, urgent" (The New Yorker) examination of the growing inequality gap from the bestselling author of Bowling Alone: why fewer Americans today have the opportunity for upward mobility.
Central to the very idea of America is the principle that we are a nation of opportunity. But over the last quarter century we have seen a disturbing "opportunity gap" emerge. We Americans have always believed that those who have talent and try hard will succeed, but this central tenet of the American Dream seems no longer true or at the least, much less true…


Book cover of The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class

Andrew J. Cherlin Why did I love this book?

This U.K. author provides the most insightful analysis of a new category of worker. The portmanteau title combines “precarious” and “proletariat” into “precariat.” The growing number of workers in the “precariat” not only receive low wages but also take precarious jobs in which scheduling can vary week to week, employment guarantees are absent, and fringe benefits are almost nonexistent. Standing looks for the reasons behind the emergence of the precariat and how we might respond to their growing numbers.

By Guy Standing,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Precariat as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book presents the new Precariat - the rapidly growing number of people facing lives of insecurity, on zero hours contracts, moving in and out of jobs that give little meaning to their lives. The delivery driver who brings your packages, the uber driver who gets you to work, the security guard at the mall, the carer looking after our elderly...these are The Precariat.

Guy Standing investigates this new and growing group, finding a frustrated and angry new underclass who are often ignored by politicians and economists. The rise of zero hours contracts, encouraged by fat cat corporations as risk-free…


Book cover of We're Still Here: Pain and Politics in the Heart of America

Andrew J. Cherlin Why did I love this book?

While a lot of attention has been paid to the industrial decline in cities, the loss of jobs in industries such as mining has caused distress in rural areas. Recently, we have seen rises in drug abuse, overdose deaths, and suicides in rural America. Jennifer Silva did fieldwork in a rural Pennsylvania area that has experienced these shocks to its system, and she shows us the difficulties its residents are having.

By Jennifer M. Silva,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked We're Still Here as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A deep, multi-generational story of pain, place, and politics.

The economy has been brutal to American workers for several decades. The chance to give one's children a better life than one's own - the promise at the heart of the American Dream - is withering away. While onlookers assume those suffering in marginalized working-class communities will instinctively rise up, the 2016 election threw into sharp relief how little we know about how the working-class translate their grievances into politics.

In We're Still Here, Jennifer M. Silva tells a deep, multi-generational story of pain, place, and politics that will endure long…


Book cover of The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit

Andrew J. Cherlin Why did I love this book?

How and when did all this start? Historian Thomas Sugrue shows that the peak of industrial employment in cities such as Detroit, the focus of this book, occurred in the 1940s. Then as hundreds of thousands of industrial jobs were lost in Detroit (and millions elsewhere in the US), the position of the urban working class deteriorated. This decline was an important source of the “urban crisis” that started in the 1960s.

By Thomas J. Sugrue,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Origins of the Urban Crisis as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Once America's "arsenal of democracy," Detroit is now the symbol of the American urban crisis. In this reappraisal of America's racial and economic inequalities, Thomas Sugrue asks why Detroit and other industrial cities have become the sites of persistent racialized poverty. He challenges the conventional wisdom that urban decline is the product of the social programs and racial fissures of the 1960s. Weaving together the history of workplaces, unions, civil rights groups, political organizations, and real estate agencies, Sugrue finds the roots of today's urban poverty in a hidden history of racial violence, discrimination, and deindustrialization that reshaped the American…


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Book cover of The Squiggly Line Career: How Changing Professions Can Advance a Career in Unexpected Ways

Angela Champ Author Of The Squiggly Line Career: How Changing Professions Can Advance a Career in Unexpected Ways

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Who am I?

Although I’ve worked in many professions and industries, a common theme in all my jobs is that I love helping people succeed in their careers. I’ve started or sponsored employee networks that focused on professional development, I’m a certified coach that focuses on propelling a client’s career, and I am a conference keynote speaker on the topics of careers and leadership. Everyone deserves to have a great career that makes them want to jump out of bed on Monday morning and that provides a good living and lifestyle. I love to make that happen!

Angela's book list on accelerating your career

What is my book about?

When we're children, we're asked what we want to be when we grow up. But what if there isn't just one career for us in our lifetime? What if we can have a squiggly line career that spans professions and industries?

This book will guide job seekers on the traits and tactics needed to change professions, and show hiring professionals how to find candidates with the skills to do the job!

The Squiggly Line Career: How Changing Professions Can Advance a Career in Unexpected Ways

By Angela Champ,

What is this book about?

When we are children, people ask us what we want to be when we grow up. The question elicits all sorts of dreams as a kid - "I want to be a ballerina" or "a firefighter" or "an astronaut." It becomes daunting as we grow up and start feeling pressured to make a choice that could affect the rest of our lives. What if we're not meant to follow just one path but, rather, pursue a squiggly line career that moves us across professions and industries? Filled with examples of real life squiggly line careers and interactive exercises, this book…


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Interested in the economy, the working class, and Detroit?

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