For years many Democrats have wondered why poor and middle class Americans vote for conservative politicians that don't share their economic interests, especially in our country's poorest states like West Virginia. Is it some twisted ideology? Something to do with race or religion? It could be all of those things, but oddly enough, jobs could also be a factor. Or more specifically, the fear of losing those jobs. In a Facebook post today, Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich explains:
Last week’s massive toxic chemical spill into West Virginia Elk River illustrates another benefit to the business class of high unemployment, economic insecurity, and a safety-net shot through with holes. Not only are employees docile, eager to accept whatever crumbs they can get. The public is also quiescent and unwilling to cause trouble.
The spill was the region’s third major chemical accident in five years, coming after two investigations by the federal Chemical Safety Board in the Kanawha Valley, also known as “Chemical Valley,” and repeated recommendations from federal regulators and environmental advocates that the state embrace tougher rules to better safeguard chemicals. But state and local lawmakers turned a deaf ear.
As Maya Nye, president of People Concerned About Chemical Safety, a citizen’s group formed after a 2008 explosion and fire killed workers at West Virginia’s Bayer CropScience plant in the state, told the Times: “We are so desperate for jobs in West Virginia we don’t want to do anything that pushes industry out.” Exactly.
For years political scientists have wondered why the citizens of West Virginia and other poorer states vote against their economic interests, hypothesizing it’s because economic issues have been preempted by others like guns, abortion, and race. But as wages keep sinking and economic security disappears, it’s also because people are so desperate for jobs they’ll vote whatever way industry wants them to. Bottom line: A strong and growing middle class is the best bulwark against corporate irresponsibility.