This investigates the American lower, middle, and upper class from an academic, sociological viewpoint. Also discussed is the so-called “symptoms” of life on each social stratum and the exploitative economic role of the poor.
“I am one of the most irresponsible beings that ever lived. Irresponsibility is part of my invisibility; any way you face it, it is a denial. But to whom can I be responsible, and why should I be, when you refuse to see me?”
- Ralph Ellison
History teachers have a tendency to ask students, “What event marked mankind’s transition into the Modern era?” While there are obviously countless possible answers, one image that jumps to mind is a beleaguered, post-plague Europe finally breaking free of feudalism. You would think the transition from such a rigid, disproportional class system to a free economy where working means earning, must have changed man’s view of the world. Yet did this social shift ever really occur? Are the groups we segment ourselves into already burnt into our collective subconscious? As the world’s capital-driven economy becomes more and more interconnected through globalization our focus as humans increasingly shifts toward the bottom line. All over the world, human rights are sacrificed daily to accommodate profit just as they have been for ages. My objective is to analyze the American lower, middle, and upper classes from an honest, sociological point of view to determine whether or not inequality is an inevitable part of our culture.
Being poor is often brushed off as simply having less than others but there are real life consequences to life under the poverty line that go far beyond mere discomfort. According to the sourcebook “Down to Earth Sociology,” researchers have determined that being part of the so-called “lower class” can mean a higher tendency for physical illness, marriages ending in divorce, children dropping out of school, and committing or being victimized by violent crime (Henslin: 376). These are the very serious symptoms of the social disease of poverty that some try to pass of as a necessary evil. After all, the unpleasant roles in a society must be filled and it requires people with a lower standard of living and a willingness to accept lower wages to fill them. Sociologist Hebert J. Gans referred to these occupations as “dirty work,” describing them as “physically dirty, or dangerous, temporary, dead-end and underpaid, undignified, and menial (Henslin: 377)…”
The “functionality,” or convenient nature of, having an over-worked, under-paid class to subsidize the cost of living for the classes above it naturally outweigh the disadvantages (At least for everyone except the poor). Even the United States government is bold enough to admit this truth at times. In some southern states, Gans reports, welfare benefits are temporarily suspended during summer months to assure a willing pool of workers to bring in the harvest at next-to-nothing wages (Henslin: 378). So it is plain to see we live in a culture effectively reliant on economically desperate people to make living cheaper and easier for those with a more secured social standing. In this way, the American system seems to be completely geared toward denying upward mobility for those who need it most. In short, the fulfillment of the “American Dream” costs the ruling class and is discouraged by all means. Yet blame for social injustice can not be focused on one nation in one hemisphere. If poverty is the antithesis to wealth here in the states it must be all over the world, throughout history.