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Review Essay

The Great White Nope

Poor, Working Class, and Left Behind in America

In This Review

White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America
White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America
By Nancy Isenberg
Viking, 2016, 480 pp. Purchase

Most Americans are optimistic about their futures—but poor and working-class whites are not. According to a recent analysis published by the Brookings Institution, poor Hispanics are almost a third more likely than their white counterparts to imagine a better future. And poor African Americans—who face far higher rates of incarceration and unemployment and who fall victim far more frequently to both violent crime and police brutality—are nearly three times as optimistic as poor whites. Carol Graham, the economist who oversaw the analysis, concluded that poor whites suffer less from direct material deprivation than from the intangible but profound problems of “unhappiness, stress, and lack of hope.” That might explain why the slogan of the Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump—“Make America Great Again!”—sounds so good to so many of them.

A stunning U-turn in the fortunes of poor and working-class whites began in the 1970s, as

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