Red Wing Boots and the Disappearing White Working-Class Male

By Cesar Fernando Lumba

A fashion statement? Red Wing Boots are now a fashion statement?

To understand how this metamorphosis has come to pass, we are again shunted towards the sorry state of American manufacturing. Once upon a time in America, the lunch-pail crowd parked their recent-model cars and pickup trucks in company parking lots all over the industrial Midwest at the break of dawn and trudged on Red Wing boots to the muscular factories that dotted America’s rust belt like giant smokestacks humming with beehive noise to produce everything that America and even many foreign countries needed – from paper clips to International Harvester backhoes.

Now the prairies are reclaiming the abandoned factories and the white working-class males who used to punch their time cards in those factories are sitting at home, idled by the furious flight of factories to the Sirens’ shores of China.

People still wear Red Wing Boots, because they are of exceptional quality, but no longer mainly for use on factory floors. They have become fashion statements of choice of well-heeled technology-savvy workers. An average work boot that is really not used as a boot now costs $250 and up.

Americans love the Red Wing. And this love affair with the Red Wing promises to grow.

Back to the white working-class males who used to work in the factories but are now sitting at home, forced into early retirement: what’s so unusual about them? They are dying. Dying younger and younger. The white working-class male’s life expectancy is now comparable to that of blacks in the 1960s.

While black, Hispanic and minority life expectancies are rising, white working class male life expectancy is declining. The sociologists who discovered this phenomenon are alarmed.  Certainly because of the decline, but also because of the known reasons for the decline.

Since the 1990s, when the current trend first came on the scene as a mere hint or whisper, white working-class males have been dying younger and younger. Lately, the problem has become an epidemic. Researchers have found that the main cause of this epidemic is the loss of status of white-working class males. Ripped away from factory jobs that they thought they could retire from, jobs that were mainly shipped to China, many white working-class males could not find jobs that would allow them to maintain their middle class lifestyles. Often they were relegated to second-class status in their own houses, where their wives became, by necessity, the main breadwinners because women are generally better suited for many of the service jobs that were being created by the U.S. economy to replace the lost manufacturing jobs.

The Cadillac health insurance policies were gone – health insurance policies won through muscular union-management negotiations. The men could no longer count on the usual doctor visits and periodic checkups. Their health took a nosedive. Many turned to drugs and alcohol. Many became irritable and quick-tempered, leading to elevated blood pressures. And to diabetes and other chronic diseases. A significant number turned to the ultimate solution – they committed suicide.

The life expectancy decline among white working-class males has been so huge that the overall life expectancy of the white middle class – including both women and men – has been falling.

Thus goes the tale of the Red Wing boots becoming a fashion statement. Fewer people need them as work boots, so the company has tapped a new market: the tech savvy yuppies who wear the boots as a statement of their income and virility.

Meanwhile, our white middle-class neighbors are dying off, falling like flies sprayed with a made-in-China can of Raid.

If we don’t bring manufacturing back to the U.S. – at the very least 51% of all manufactured products that we consume – the browning of America will not happen in the 2050s. It will happen a lot sooner, as white working-class males continue to descend to desperate straits while the minorities take over as the new majority coalition.

No wonder there’s a Tea Party. Their methods are abhorrent in the extreme, intolerable on most days. They want to fight the government, which they accuse of doing it to them. They should actually be fighting Big Business, Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Bigs, etc. Instead they are allied with the richest corporations and individuals who are pulling the marionette strings.

The white working-class males should be screaming for a return of their jobs while they are still alive and not while at their deathbeds, because that would mean that the ones who shall reap the benefit of manufacturing’s return shall be the minority males.

They should cut the marionette strings that the Big Bigs are using to dominate their thoughts and manage their actions. ¬†It’s a matter of life and death.

(You may reach the author at lumbacesar@gmail.com. If you email the author he will provide you with a phone number you may wish to call.)

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