At Sentier Research, John Coder and Gordon Green write:
The “working class” in America has been frequently defined as white males with a high school education working at wage and salary jobs. Some have said that this is one of the groups that has been “left behind” and newly energized during this year’s election process. This statistical brief compares changes in earnings for white males, contrasting the experiences of high school graduates and college graduates between 1996 and 2014. It utilizes a cohort approach to examining changes in their earnings. The results suggest vastly different experiences for high school and college graduates during the period. For example, during this 18-year period wage and salary income per cohort member for high school graduate cohorts declined by 9 percent overall while the income for college graduate cohorts increased by 23 percent. In 2014, income per cohort member stood at $94,601 for college graduates but only $36,787 for high school graduates. Using cohort analysis instead of cross-sectional methods shows that while wage and salary incomes of white male college graduates soared as they aged through this 18-year period, the earnings of most high school graduate cohorts managed only meager gains and, for some cohorts, declines. It may be that the “working class” understands better than most just how far their earnings have fallen behind. The term “working class” in this report refers to white males with a high school education.