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					Social Class in the U.S.
       Chapter 11

   Our culture encourages the attitude that poverty and
    wealth are the consequence of individual effort rather
    than structural conditions.
   For this reason, being poor carries a stigma in which
    people shun the poor as “lazy” or “ignorant.”
       Because of this American stigma, the American poor may
        often internalize this attitude into their own self esteem. They
        may develop low self esteem and they may adopt a fatalistic
        attitude about life.
       Being poor in this country is more psychologically
        stressful than in other nations, due to the stigma and the
        American stereotypes of the poor.
   Also for this reason, America has the least developed
    welfare system of all industrial democracies.                      2
    Dimensions of Social Inequality
   Historically, the U.S. practiced a system of internal
    colonization against racial minorities and women. This
    partial-caste system placed minorities into the lower
       Meanwhile, white males were subject to a class system of
        stratification, which made it easier for them to experience
        upward mobility.
       The legacy of this dual system was carried into the 20th
        century, and even today the same groups remain highly
        stratified, with white males at the top.
   Ironically, Americans tend to underestimate the extent
    of American stratification. Why?
    Why do Americans
    Underestimate U.S. Poverty?
   1. The U.S. embraces the ideal of equality, despite the real culture of
    racism, sexism, and classism. We want to believe that America has
    been the land of equal opportunity for all.
   2. The U.S. emphasizes the ideal of individualism and individual
    achievement, thus obscuring the ascribed features of our class
      We ignore the fact that birth is the single best predictor of one’s
        life chances.
   3. The people we spend our time with tend to be of similar class
    standing – and we rarely glimpse others’ lives.
   4. Compared with other countries, our overall standard of living is
    relatively high, making it seem like everyone is better off.
      In fact the poor in American are worse off than the poor in
        most other industrialized nations due to our weak welfare state.
    Measuring Inequality: Income and Wealth

   Income refers to salary and wages.
       It is not the best indicator of social class. The government
        keeps records about yearly income for taxation purposes.
   Wealth refers to accumulated assets, including income,
    other money, and property.
       It is a much better indicator of social class, but we know
        relatively little about American wealth because the wealthy do
        not like to share information about their wealth. The
        government does not keep many records about family wealth
        – and that is how the rich want it to be.

                       U.S. Income
   In 2004, the median U.S. family income was roughly
    $55, 000.
   Among whites, the median family income was roughly
    $61,000, while for blacks the median family income was
    roughly $35,000. This large difference has a lot to do
    with the historical treatment of internal colonization
    against blacks and other racial minorities.
           The practice of racial discrimination was finally outlawed
            by the 1960s, but its legacy still affects racial minorities.
       Unlike Europe, the U.S. society never had a titled nobility
        system that placed a caste system on the whole population, so
        the experience of whites in the U.S. has generally been
        upwardly mobile thanks to the expanding American economy.
  2003 Distribution of Income and Wealth in the U.S.
         (Figures are by percentage, which add up to 100%)
 90             84
 50      47.6

 40                                                                                      Income
 30                                                                                      Wealth
 20                                   15.5
                               11                     9.6
 10                                          5                       4.1
  0                                                                        -1
      Upper 20%       2nd 20%        3rd 20%        4th 20%      Lower 20%
While income is highly stratified in the U.S., wealth is extremely stratified. The top 20%
of U.S. families own 80% of all wealth. This is remarkable in our so-called “equal
opportunity” society.                                                                        7
                     U.S. Income Data
   From the chart on the earlier page, it is clear that the bulk of
    U.S. income is earned by a small portion of American
       71% of all income is earned by 40% of U.S. families.
   This income disparity increased during the 1980s under the
    economic policies of Ronald Reagan.
      President Reagan’s tax policies favored the rich, leading to
       redistribution of income toward the upper class. During the 1980s,
       the top 1% of Americans doubled their incomes while the rest of
       Americans either lost income or barely held their own.
      President Reagan cut welfare services aimed at the poor.
      During the 1980s, there were harmful structural shifts that affected
       the working class and the poor particularly, including plant
       migration, downsizing, decline of labor unions, automation, etc.
   The current policies of President Bush have led to further polarization
    between the rich and the poor.                                        8
                     American Wealth
   Wealth is a more important indicator of social class. It
    includes all of the assets a family owns. We know relatively
    little about American wealth because that is how the rich
    want it to be. Nevertheless, researchers have been able to
    get a fairly good glimpse into American wealth:
       40% of Americans have no wealth;
       20% of Americans have negative wealth, meaning they owe more
        than they are worth;
       The top 20% of Americans enjoy the vast bulk (84%) of
        American wealth.
           Note: the assets of the rich (homes, land, artworks,
            businesses, etc) tend to appreciate, while the assets of the poor
            (cars, clothes, appliances, etc) tend to depreciate over time.

What is the significance of severe
   1. Political Power.
     A small percentage of American families have
      extraordinary influence over the economic and
      political policies of this country.
     Political policies are skewed to benefit the rich more
      than any other group.
     As Thomas Jefferson noted, our democracy requires
      that wealth be spread out, not concentrated.
     Today many argue that we live in a plutocracy –
      government run for the benefit of the rich.

    What is the significance of severe
   2. Job quality.
       The quality of work varies by the type of job:
            White collar jobs confer higher prestige
                  Mental emphasis, therefore more stimulating
                  More autonomy
                  Lots of upward mobility potential
                  Higher pay
            Blue collar jobs confer lower prestige
                  Redundant, tedious, boring, dull
                  Constant supervision means they are disempowering and stressful
                  Less upward mobility
                  Lower pay
       While white males have been steered toward white collar jobs,
        racial minorities have been steered toward blue collar jobs, and
        women have been steered toward pink collar jobs. Pink collar jobs
        are service sector jobs that are sex-segregated and low paid. 11
            Ascription and Social Class
   All systems of stratification contain a mixture of caste and class.
    Today, the U.S. system emphasizes class based stratification, yet
    ascribed features remain deeply embedded in our system.
   Ancestry
   The single most important factor influencing our life chances is our
    birth into a particular family. Our families ascribe our initial location in
    the stratification system.
      A child who is born rich will likely stay rich (no matter how dumb
        they are) and a child born poor will likely stay in the lower classes.
      Our schooling, access to jobs, and income are directly affected by
        our parent’s social standing.
      Roughly half of the richest people in America inherited their
        wealth – they did nothing to “merit” it.
      Wealth (or lack of it) is transmitted from one generation to the next
        via inheritance, helping to explain the persistence of social
        stratification.                                                      12
             Race and Ethnicity
   Today the median family income for whites is
    roughly $61,000, yet for blacks it is only about
    $35,000 or 57% that of whites.
     Roughly half of all black families are headed by a
      single woman.
     Even when comparing black and white couples, black
      families still earn only 84% of their white

   Households headed by women are 10 times more likely
    to be poor than those headed by men, due largely to
    patriarchy and sex-segregated job placement.
       Historically women have been steered toward pink collar jobs
        like secretaries, nurses, food service workers, health care
        workers, airline stewardesses, and public school teachers.
   Over the last 40 years
       1. A larger percentage of women have experienced sharp
        downward mobility due to divorce.
          These are mostly mothers and this is is one of the key
            causes of the feminization of poverty.
       2. Yet, a larger percentage of women have also experienced
        upward mobility due to the rise of feminism, changing values,
        and women’s new upward mobility in the job force.
         American Social Classes
                     Population percentage   Yearly Income (appox)

 Upper class               5%                 $180K+

Upper middle class       15%                 $80-170K

Lower middle class       25%                  $40-80K

Working class            34%                 $25-40K

Lower class              20%                 Below $25K
          American Social Classes

   Defining social classes is difficult and a bit arbitrary.
    There are not clear social class lines, and there is a lot
    of status inconsistency in the U.S.
   Macionis identifies 4 basic social classes:
       Upper
       Middle
       Working
       Lower

                  The Upper Class
   About 3 to 5% of the American population.
   Family income is roughly $170K or more.
   Lots of inherited wealth.
   Tend to be top executives and senior officials.
   Highly educated at the best schools.
   Mainly white, Anglo-Protestant.
   Very exclusive, especially among the top 1%, who tend to
    live in private, gated communities, to attend exclusive
    country clubs, to send their kids to exclusive schools.
   The rich tend to be social liberals, yet they are economic
    conservatives who favor laissez faire government.
                 The Middle Class
   Roughly 40 – 50% of the population, if you count both the
    upper middle (15%) and the lower middle (25-35%).
   Incomes range from roughly $40-170K, depending on whether it
    is lower middle or upper middle class.
   The upper middle class is the source of most TV shows that
    portray an idealized middle class (Cosby Show) lifestyle.
   The middle class tends to be relatively highly educated, with
    most attending or graduating from college.
   Upper middle class jobs are college graduate jobs that confer a
    higher-order professional status on the worker (doctors, lawyers,
    engineers, etc), while lower middle class jobs are lower-order
    professionals like teachers, managers, etc.
   The middle class tends to be socially liberal, but are moderates
    on economic issues.
                 The Working Class
   Represents roughly one-third of the population.
   Income is roughly $25-40K per year.
   Little or no accumulated wealth, other than a home (if
    they are lucky).
   Their jobs tend to be blue collar and pink collar jobs.
    Working class workers tend to be highly prideful of their
    work ethic, despite their relatively lower pay.
   Especially vulnerable to job loss, downsizing, etc.
   Less educated. Many cannot afford 4-year college, so they
    aim for trade schools.
   Tend to be socially conservative, yet economically liberal.
       Fairly strict in child rearing.
                    The Lower Class
   Roughly 20% of the American population.
   Characterized by unstable jobs, or being too old, young,
    or sick to work.
       Disproportionately single mothers (and their children) and
        racial minorities.
   Jobs tend to be menial with low pay.
   These families typically earn less than $25K per year.
   Stigmatized, ignored, and segregated by the culture.
   Low levels of education; lots of life stresses.
   Concentrated where unemployment is high:
       1. Inner cities.
       2. Rural areas.
   Tend to be socially conservative, economically liberal.          20
        The Difference Class Makes
   1. Class and Health
     Poor infants are several times more likely to die
      during their first year due to their life conditions.
     Poor people are more likely to get sick or injured
      and more likely to lack resources to heal.
     Nutrition is one key to longevity, and poor people
      tend to have relatively poor nutrition.
     The overall result is that poor people tend to live
      shorter lives - significantly shorter.

        The Difference Class Makes
   2. Class and Values
   Cultural values and patterns tend to vary by social class.
       Generally the more educated classes are more socially tolerant
        and less bigoted. This is one of the effects of college
        education in particular.
       The working and lower classes, because they are less
        educated, tend to have more prejudices and are less tolerant
        of social differences. They place more emphasis on
        conformity and obedience and tend to be more strict in their
        child rearing. Their husband-wife relationship is more likely
        to be traditional values oriented, with patriarchy favored.

         Social Class and Politics
   Generally, the higher the social class, the more
    likely they will support conservative economic
    policies that do not threaten the status-quo
    distribution of wealth.
   The lower social classes, on the other hand, tend
    to be more in favor of the redistribution of
    wealth, toward welfare for the poor, etc.

           Social Mobility Patterns

   The U.S. has a lot of upward mobility, like other
    societies, due to favorable structural economic forces.
   Most mobility has been structural, upward, and inter-
       Intra-generational mobility occurs, of course, but it tends to
        be within-class mobility, where one moves up a bit with small
        increases in salary.
       About 40% of the sons of blue collar workers attain white
        collar jobs, while about 30% of the sons of white collar
        workers move downward into blue collar jobs.

              Mobility Patterns
   1. Lots of mobility is occurring.
   2. Until the 1970s, most mobility was upward,
    due largely to structural expansion of the
   3. Intra-generational mobility has been
    incremental rather than dramatic. It is extremely
    rare for one to go from “rags to riches.”

           Mobility Patterns - Race
Mobility patterns vary by race.
 In 1970, blacks earned 60% of white income.
 In 1980, blacks earned 65% of white income.
 In 1990, blacks earned 58% of white income.
       Notice that this drop occurred during the Reagan Era – the
        era of economic conservatism.
   In 2000, blacks earned 64% of white income.
   In 2002, blacks earned 62% of white income.
       Black income has continued to drop under the policies of
        George Bush, an economic conservative.

                Mobility Patterns - Sex
   Women’s mobility has shifted dramatically in two ways.
   1. Our high divorce rate makes divorce for mothers
    economically traumatic, with these mothers (and their kids)
    likely to experience downward mobility.
       The income of single-parent families plummets by more than 1/3rd
        within the first few months after divorce or separation.
       The increased risk of poverty for divorced mothers refers to what is
        called the feminization of poverty.
          Women represent 61% of the poor.

   2. While women are concentrated in pink collar jobs, they are
    breaking out of the old caste system of gender segregated
    jobs, thanks to feminism and changing values.
       In 1980, women earned 60% of the income of men.
       In 2004, women earned 77% of the income of men (due largely to
        the drop in men’s wages over this period).                  27
            The Middle Class Slide
   By 1972, upward structural mobility ended for most
    and incomes stagnated, causing many to wonder if the
    American Dream of upward mobility is still a reality.
       Between 1958-1973 the average 50-year old male’s income
        rose from $26K to $38K.
       Between 1973-2001, his income stagnated while his housing
        and health care costs shot up.
   The security attached to middle class jobs has eroded
    due to changes in the economy. American
    corporations no longer guarantee job stability for
    American workers.
       Since 1972, new jobs typically pay less, with fewer benefits,
        causing downward structural mobility.
                     Global Perspective
   Underlying the middle class slide is a global economic
    transformation in which many unionized blue collar jobs
    (with good pay and benefits) have migrated overseas to non-
    unionized, low-pay regions like Red China. These regions
    typically pay extremely low wages, with few worker benefits.
       While American corporate executives benefited from their decision
        to do this, the average American worker has suffered.
   The U.S. is no longer the dominant maker of cars, TVs,
    stereos, and other key goods.
       Instead, the U.S. is consuming the goods made in China and other
        industrializing nations. This contributes to a massive trade deficit.
   The fastest growing jobs in the U.S. are typically in the low-
    paid service sector: clerks, truck drivers, aides, cashiers, etc.
   Today, the only class experiencing dramatic upward mobility
    is the class that least needs it – the rich.                    29
            The Middle Class Slide
   The American Dream has eroded
       1. Loss of stable, upwardly mobile jobs.
       2. Decline of stable nuclear suburban families.
       3. Increases in the cost of college make it more prohibitive
       4. Home ownership rates declined from 66% to 64% during
        the 1980s.
   Today it takes 2 wage earners from the same household
    to earn what a typical white male eared in 1950.
   The result has been an increase in social problems like
       Divorce and family instability
       Crime and adolescent pessimism
       Higher suicide rates for those who are stressed
       More poverty, combined with less welfare supports
                 Poverty in America
   Social stratification creates “haves” and “have-nots.”
    Poverty is the consequence of stratification. All
    capitalist systems produce at least some poverty.
   Poverty can be looked at in two ways:
       1. Relative poverty. This refers to the deprivation of some
        compared with others. Even in a wealthy society, there will be
        some who are relatively less well off.
       2. Absolute poverty. This refers to deprivation of resources
        that is life threatening. This is far more serious. However, this
        type of poverty can be eliminated if we wanted to.

                 Extent of U.S. Poverty
   The official poverty threshold for a family of 4 is roughly $19,307 per
   This threshold is highly controversial, because it is clear that this is an
    extremely low amount for a family of four, given the cost of housing
    and health care these days.
      The reason why it is so low is that politicians do not like to admit
       that poverty exists under their administrations, and there is
       relatively little political payoff in directing resources to the poor
       because the poor have low voting rates.
   In 1964, President Johnson declared a War on Poverty. At that time
    about 22% of Americans were officially poor, and a lot of them were
    senior citizens. Within about 10 years, the poverty rate dropped to
    around 12%, which is where it has hovered ever since. Johnson was an
    economic and social liberal.
   The rise of Ronald Reagan, the economic conservative, led to the
    dismantling of 1/3rd of the welfare directed to the poor. Poverty rose.
             Extent of U.S. Poverty
   By the end of the Reagan era, official poverty rose to about 14%.
   By 2000, poverty had declined to around 12% again, but under
    the conservative policies of President Bush poverty is on the rise
    again. In 2004 the government claimed that 12.7% of Americans
    were poor. This adds up to 40 million Americans.
   Yet the U.S. has the resources to eradicate absolute poverty.
    The amount needed to end absolute child poverty is roughly $28
    billion annually. We routinely spend more than this on the Iraq
    War, which has been estimated to cost Americans roughly $3
    trillion dollars over the next few years.
      This is even less than we spend each year to bail out the
         savings and loan industry.
      It is also less than the additional income given to the top 1%
         of Americans under the tax policies advocated by economic
                     Who are the poor?
   1. Children. In 2000, 16% of all individuals under 18 years old were
  poor. The elderly used to be among the disproportionately poor, but
  the War on Poverty provided programs like Medicare which alleviated
  poverty among seniors. In 1967 30% of the elderly were poor, but by
  1996 only 11% were poor. Government resources have increased for the
  elderly, but not for children. (Children don’t vote).
 2. Racial/Ethnic minorities. While most poor people are white
  (66%), minority groups are disproportionately poor. In 2000, 22% of
  blacks were poor, compared with only about 8% of whites.
   3. Women. Of all poor adults, 61% are women and 39% are men.
    Women who are single parents bear the brunt of this. Of all poor
    families, half are headed by a single woman. Of course, her children
    suffer too.
   4. Inner city and rural residents. These are regions where
    unemployment is higher. In the inner city about 16% are poor,
    compared with only 8% who live in the suburb.
Explaining Poverty: Two Opposing Models
   The U.S. is among the world’s most affluent societies,
    yet it has one of the highest levels of poverty of all
    industrial nations.
   Our poverty rate is high because we tolerate high levels
    of poverty. Americans tend to be individualists who
    believe that the individual must be responsible for
    whatever conditions they face. Part of the reason for
    this lies also in American attitudes about the sources of
   There are 2 opposing explanations for poverty – the
    culture of poverty explanation promoted by Oscar
    Lewis and the economic explanation promoted by
    William Julius Wilson.                                   35
             The Culture of Poverty
   This model, advocated by Oscar Lewis, represents the
    conservative viewpoint. They argue that the poor are
    mainly responsible for their own poverty.
   This is due to the culture that poor people grow up in –
    particularly the culture that allows high levels of
    matriarchal households. In these households, there are few
    responsible male role models, so the kids don’t grow up in
    a healthy subculture.
   Advocates of this view argue that there are plenty of
    opportunities for jobs and education, but that poor people
    are not taking advantage of these opportunities. Instead,
    they point to poor people preferring to hang out on street
    corners and become welfare dependents. They lack
    ambition and a hard work ethic.                           36
           The Economic Model
   William Julius Wilson disagrees with the culture of
    poverty explanation for poverty. He argues that poverty
    is mainly due to the lack of economic opportunities in
    the inner cities and rural regions where poverty is
   He claims that poor people are just as motivated to
    work, but it is an issue of opportunity, not values. The
    problem is that poor people do not have the same
    access to jobs, loans, good schools, and other vital
    resources for upward mobility.
   He says it is “blaming the victim” to attribute poverty
    to deficiencies among the poor rather than deficiencies
    within the larger economic system.
   Americans are evenly divided over whether the government or
    people themselves should take responsibility for reducing poverty.
      About half of the head of households among the poor did not
        work at all in 2004, which seems to support the culture of
        poverty model on the surface.
      But the reasons why they did not work are more consistent with
        the economic model. Many poor women want to work but
        cannot afford child care, and they complain that there are not
        enough jobs to go around.
   The University of Michigan publishes an annual Panel Study on
    Income Dynamics (PSID research). This research reveals that
    the poor have a similar work ethic and achievement ambition to
    other social classes. The research finds that only 2 to 3% of the
    able-bodied poor intend to live off of welfare. The research also
    finds that 1 in 5 Americans becomes temporarily poor at some time
    in their life – but we get married or get jobs which move us out of
    poverty. Poverty is dynamic.
   Given the PSID research, it would be more effective to
    focus on structural job-creating solutions than to focus
    on changing poor people’s so-called “deficient” value
   It is important to remember that the bulk of poor
    people are too old, young, or sick to work.
   Another key point is that 20% of the poor are heads of
    households who are already working. Their jobs simply
    pay too little to get them out of poverty. These are the
    “working poor” and they are a direct contradiction to
    the culture of poverty model that explains poverty.
       For many Americans the minimum wage is so low that it
        traps them in poverty. They advocate an increase in the
        minimum wage.                                             39
   Housing costs have skyrocketed since the 1970s, and this,
    combined with the nature of poverty, is the main factor
    behind the homeless problem.
   There are 500,000 homeless people on any given night in
    the U.S.
   Homelessness is caused by a variety of factors
       Rising housing prices and the failure to build affordable housing
       Job loss, divorce , injury, bad health, or death of a loved one
       People with mental and drug abuse issues
       De-institutionalization, with people being released from total
        institutions during the 1970s
       Decline of the old bowery system of housing, where a room
        could be temporarily rented for pennies
   Today about 1/3rd of the homeless are entire families.             40
    Why have Americans allowed absolute poverty
    to continue?
   The dominant ideologies of capitalism, meritocracy, and
    individualism help explain why most Americans refuse to do much
    about absolute poverty.
   Americans are socialized to view welfare as a “hand out” that
    interferes with the work ethic. Welfare is heavily stigmatized in the
    U.S.. Americans are more likely than Europeans to view the poor as
    lazy or stupid, and as people who take advantage of the system.
      The stigma of poverty is so great that 50% of those eligible for
        assistance do not even apply for it.
   Ironically, while most Americans believe that welfare undermines the
    work ethic, most Americans are not aware that half of all welfare
    goes to the middle and upper classes.
      There are two welfare systems operating simultaneously in
        America – welfare for the poor, and another system of welfare
        for the rich, their corporations, and the middle class.
                 Welfare for Whom?
   The term “welfare” refers to supports paid for by public
    funds that go to any group that “needs” it. Given the
    influence of the rich upon government policies, it is no
    wonder that the American welfare system has bailed out
    banks, airlines, oil corporations, and other multimillion
    dollar industries.
      Even the middle class enjoys welfare support when they
       deduct the mortgage interest on the homes they own.
      The CATO Institute, a conservative think tank,
       estimates that welfare for the rich and middle class
       totaled $300 billion in a recent study.

   Finally, given American individualism, we are socialized to
    believe that people are personally responsible for whatever
    predicaments they find themselves in.
      This view ignores the power of racism, sexism, and classism
        in limiting people’s opportunities.
      Today about 70% of whites believe that racism no longer
        affects the lives of racial minorities, compared with only
        about 30% of blacks who agree with this viewpoint. It
        appears that most Americans do not want to acknowledge
        that we are not an “equal opportunity” society.
   As long as Americans continue to attribute poverty to personal
    defects, and as long as Americans mistakenly believe that we live
    in an “equal opportunity” society, they will do little about