Monday, September 4, 2006
On Labor Day, it's worth reflecting on the state of the political debate over what used to be called the "laboring class," or the "working class." This was generally understood to refer to perhaps the poorest one-third of the nation. Today, these people have almost disappeared from the national political debate; it is acceptable in most circles to talk only of helping "middle-class families." Talk of helping "the poor" is considered political suicide in many debates. So how do advocates of low-cost housing gather public support, especially when rising housing prices have not cut the homeownership rate, which stays near the all-time high of around 69 percent?
The answer may be to appeal to the selfishness of the great masses of middle-class families who want government to help them. With housing, this case can done by an appeal to "workforce housing," a fascinating term of rhetoric that is sweeping through the nation's local political debates. If we don't help provide for low-cost housing, who will police our streets, put out our fires, nurse in our hospitals, and teach our children? This problem is especially alarming for middle-class families who live in increasingly large numbers in isolated suburbs and exurbs. Here are discussions of efforts to use the term to get low-cost housing built and paid for, from Fannie Mae, the American Planning Association, and the Urban Land Institute. Here's hoping that the rhetorical device of "workforce housing" will get more low-cost housing built for less affluent people who labor in all occupations.