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Broke and Patriotic

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Broke and Patriotic

Why Poor Americans Love Their Country

Stanford UP,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

America’s poor people suffer from US policies but still deeply love their country. Why?

Editorial Rating



  • Analytical
  • Eye Opening


Being broke in America is no picnic. Good jobs are scarce, the social safety net is sparse, and upward mobility is increasingly improbable. Despite all that, a significant percentage of poor Americans express deep pride in their country and scarcely question its reputation as a land of opportunity. Even flat-broke Americans praise their homeland as the best country in the world. Sociologist Francesco Duina explores this paradox and offers a revealing portrait of patriotism at the bottom of the US income ladder. While it may not come as a surprise that poor white Americans are patriotic, Duina also interviews low-income African-Americans who, despite their financial struggles and America’s fraught racial history, believe the United States is the best country in the world. To his credit, Duina doesn’t overreach in this clear, readable study. He limited his travels to Alabama and Montana and interviewed only poor Americans who described themselves as patriots. Thanks to this sharp focus, he brings back eye-opening results – along with the unfortunate conclusion that poor patriots often prove uninformed or inarticulate. Dishearteningly, Duina’s interviews reveal no shortage of ignorant and illogical opinions. He delves into psychoanalysis, presenting the theory that love of country can serve as a coping mechanism. Duina suggests that when everything else in life is difficult, poor patriots take comfort in believing they are citizens of the world’s greatest nation. While this report isn’t exhaustive, it provides a welcome addition to the growing genre of titles about the disconnect between Americans’ economic fortunes and their political beliefs. Thomas Frank kicked off this genre in 2005 with What’s the Matter with Kansas? Since then, other authors have weighed in with worthy and illuminating works such as White Working Class and Strangers in Their Own Land. Duina’s open-minded, thorough approach is refreshing, especially in that he brings no discernible ideological position to his study. And he offers a great deal of compassion to his subjects.


Poor Patriots: Hope Amid Struggle

Poor Americans bear the brunt of their nation’s crime, of its skimpy safety net and its increasingly diminishing upward mobility. They toil in jobs with long hours, difficult working conditions and bare-bones benefits. And yet they feel great loyalty toward the United States. Among impoverished Americans in Alabama and Montana, heartfelt patriotism cuts across race, region, religion and party affiliation. Patriotism among the poor also proves impervious to financial shocks. After the Great Recession, low-income Americans became even more patriotic.

Eddie, 56, an African-American Alabaman in Birmingham, embodies this dichotomy. He lives amid high rates of robbery and assault. He earns less than $1,000 a month, an income level that makes daily life a struggle. He served in the US Army but receives only meager government benefits. He’s aware of growing income inequality in his nation, of his own inability to thrive economically and of America’s history of slavery. Despite all that, Eddie is a devout patriot.

The Paradox of Poor Patriots

In 2014, some 47 million Americans – fully 15% ...

About the Author

Francesco Duina, a professor of sociology at Bates College, also wrote Winning: Reflections on an American Obsession.

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