…may have reached a “tipping point.”… Once-bustling shopping malls and department stores are now empty as millions of Americans do their shopping online through businesses that have warehouses but don’t operate storefronts…. “More workers in general merchandise stores have been laid off since October, about 89,000 Americans… than all the people employed in the coal industry.”… Despite this ongoing challenge and threat to millions of ordinary Americans, Washington is silent. What makes this even more striking is it comes at a time when politicians—and a multitude of voices in national media—are preoccupied with the prospects of blue-collar whites and the future of the Rust Belt. That contrast exists for several reasons, not the least of which is a simple one: Who does retail work in this country versus who does manufacturing work….

For all of the impersonal economic reasons for the decline of retail, for all the understandable reasons motivating political attention to manufacturing, it’s also the case that this is a story of race and gender. A story of who matters in our society; who deserves our collective concern. And if one thing is true in American history, it’s that white men have always been among those called “deserving,” with other groups struggling to attain that label and the respect it implies, and some—like black women—long stigmatized as inherently unworthy.

The story of our outsize concern for coal and manufacturing, or rather our indifference to the collapse of retail, is inescapably the story of how worth, value, and citizenship are still tied to those traits we can’t control.