As children, we are taught that there are no social or economic classes in the United States. We are prompted to believe that everyone is equal in nearly every way and that no one type of person has an advantage over another. As we grow older, we begin
to realize that the doctrines that have been given to us are not true. Americans separate themselves into unequal social class. Whether or not we will admit this or not is does not matter. Although it would be nice if there were not, there are many social classes in America, whether people will admit it or not. Each and every individual in society belongs to one of many established social classes. Classification into the class structure does not take into account one’s ignorance or disbelief. Plainly; one will be classified with or without one’s knowledge.
It is important to understand that there is a class system in American society because its presence creates a blueprint or structure for each of our lives. In order to better understand the class system in America, one must first understand its components. There are many social classes in the United States; many Americans will not consider themselves as anything other than “middle class”. Logically speaking, in order to have a class system, there must be people in the Upper and Lower Classes, as well as the Middle Class. We as Americans do not want to be classified as Lower Class, even if we are “dirt poor”. In general, most American’s also do not want to be considered as Upper Class, even if we have more money than we know what to do with. The idea of being Upper Class, or even being around someone who is, seems to make people uneasy.
The social class structure in America can be represented with a triangle or pyramid. The smallest segment, which is at the top, is the Upper Class. The Upper Class contains the supposedly rich, cultured, and sometimes self proclaimed socially adept people. Below the Upper Class, lies the Middle Class. The Middle Class contains intelligent, hopeful, hard working people. Some in this class hope to one day reach a success (and ultimately, monetary) level in which they would become part of the Upper Class, while others are perfectly happy in the social class that they are in. Finally, at the base of the triangular illustration, is the Lower Class. This class, as expected, contains more people than both the Middle Class and Upper Class. This class contains mostly hard working individuals who get by and make do with what they have to work with. Some of these people have less than desirable situations, somewhat due to poor decision making a hard way of life. Although this is the case for some, most are faced with unfair opportunities and unequal representation in society.
One thing about the Middle Class that differentiates it from the Lower and Upper Classes it’s ability to facilitate aspirations. Middle Class citizens are able to aspire to be more than what they are born into. They are able to dream for success and luxury.
Unlike the Middle Class, the Lower Class is not capable of possessing the same aspirations. This is due to the fact that things that would be desired by the Middle Class may seem somewhat out of reach, but not unattainable. These same objectives are more unattainable and even more out of reach for the Lower Class because of their point of view. They have less to start out with than higher classes. They also do not have the same opportunities as higher classes that would enable them to reach these goals.
Those people, who would logically be placed in the Upper Class, are not always offended by that categorization. Some Upper Class occupants hold the beliefs that they do belong there and that certain other people, or types of people, do not. The Upper Class can be loosely defined as an elite club. This club is very hard to get into if one is not already a member by way of one’s family or social favors. Unfortunately, some members of the Upper Class do look down upon those in the middle class and even more upon those who belong to the Lower Class. This can create some tensions between the classes
Lower Class Americans have a bad stereotype. In general, when we as society think of Lower Class people, we envision ragged old people pushing shopping carts down the side of the road. This stereotype is not usually the case. Most people who can be categorized as Lower Class are not homeless, unemployed, or completely poor. The majority of people in this class work minimum wage jobs which give them a yearly salary sometimes below the poverty level. Many times Lower Class people cannot get out of their class standing due to the fact that they were part of the Lower Class. Lower Class people due not always have an education, therefore, they cannot get a decent job, thus, they cannot make any money to improve their lifestyle. Ultimately, Lower Class people, for the most part, cannot “get out”. To be fair, not all Lower Class citizens are Lower Class for their entire life. There are many stories of people who were born into poverty and a Lower Class society who ended up as social leaders.
Finally, there is the Middle Class. This is the class that society has labeled as the class in which “true Americans” belong. As stated earlier, Americans are reluctant to think of themselves as anything other than middle class. Being in the Middle Class brings a sense of security to one’s self. Being a part of the Middle Class means that one is “doing all right”. One does not have to worry about being perceived as lush, as they might if one were Upper Class. While at the same time, one doesn’t have to worry about being labeled as a lazy, bum with no money. Unfortunately, this might happen if one were considered as Lower Class. Being Middle Class means that there is something to aspire to be (Upper Class), and there is always a situation worse than the one at hand (Lower Class).
Unfortunately, in America, social class is a derived form of economic class. Thus “poor” people end up being classified as lower social class Americans, while the “rich” are classified as upper social class Americans. This is due to the fact that one cannot be cultured and socially active without money. Money provides a facade about one’s self both literally and figuratively. Money buys clothes and make-up which give off first impressions to people. In addition, money also allows one to be socially active. A socially active and cultured person is most likely not going to be labeled as Lower Class.
Understanding of social classification has plagued society for many years. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Fredrich Engels described a society where people had a place in society, but were unable to digress from that which they were born into. During the 1840’s & 50’s, the controlling class was the bourgeoisie. Members of this class had sole ownership of all means of production. Today this class, the Upper Class, would consist of the elite 1% of our population and would contain high society members such as CEO’s and the like.
Marx and Engels also described the Proletariat. This class would be simply dubbed: the workers. They would provide the physical labor needed by the Bourgeoisie until the introduction of machinery into factories. Today, people belonging to this class are considered the working poor. These people work low wage jobs and are constantly on the verge of falling into poverty. This class exemplifies a previous statement that there is always a worse situation in life than the one at hand.
Why does society feel the need to label or classify people into classes? This is a question that still remains in our society. People have a need to feel like they know where they belong in life and society. Having a label gives one the comfort of being something. Many are hypocritical in this sense because people often express a want for everybody to be equal, but no one can be equal if they are put into a class structure like what has been done in society. To be equal is to be the same, and no one is the same as another.