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The Middle Class

The middle class, no matter which country they are situated, form the backbone of society and play a key role in the direction it takes. In the United States, it can be said that the middle class are people who are (at least) begininng to live the American Dream. Before going further, one needs to know who are the middle class. There is no easy or definite answer in explaining who the middle class are or who makes up the middle class, particularly in the United States where society is dynamic as people can move up and down depending on their fortunes.

Perhaps one very pedestrian or juvenile defnition of the middle class would be those who are neither rich nor poor. However, in this day and age, this definition falls short in providing a definite answer. How does one tell if someone is not rich or poor? What is their lifestyle and the values they practice? What kind of impact can they make in society in general? There are middle class people who live relatively comfortable lives yet it is not in the same category as the rich and famous of Beverly Hills.

There are also those in this class who are categorized as the “working class” yet not in the same category of those who live below the poverty line where “working class” is often associated. The media is also responsible for creating an image of class though sociologists would assert there are no class structures in America in the same line as the Hindu caste system of India (Hamilton, 1966, p. 192; Kendall, 2005, p. 3, 185).

It is very tempting to use finances as the sole criteria for determining social class and so is race or ethnic group for this would amount to stereotyping. As of 2008, a research has been conducted under the auspices of the United States Congress where their findings show that the typical middle class American earns an annual (household) income ranging between $40,000 and $250,000 (Wolpin, 2010, p. 6). One can see here that the range is rather wide and as mentioned earlier, the middle class also covers those near the fringes of society.

Even within the middle class, there are divisions and categories within or sometimes the lines that separate the middle class from the elites or society and the “working class” are blurred to the point it is hard to tell the difference and those that are near the middle consider themselves also middle class albeit a distinct category is created for them. For the sake of simplicity, this study shall discuss the middle class in general so as to avoid any ambiguity. Instead of using finances as the sole basis, this instead should be related or tied in to the occupation of the individual.

This in turn would be influenced by that individual’s educational attainment. By using occupation and educational attainment, one can tell the lifestyle of the middle class in the United States as well as the values they practice and how this makes an impact on (American) society. Nowadays, educational attainment is the first criteria in determining the social class of a person. The reason why this is a vital criteria of determining social class is because one’s educational attainment denotes one’s expertise in their chosen profession.

Just about all middle class people will have at least completed high school. But out of this majority, a lot of them will move on to study college and earn a degree. Among these college graduates, a subtantial number of them will move on and pursue graduate degrees which is a requirement in their line of work, such as a Masters in Business Administration for those who aspire to become managers in companies, and other advanced degrees. In addition, for those with families, they could afford to send their children to good schools, from primary to college (Wolpin, 2010, p.6; Kendall, 2005, p. 186).

It can be inferred here that middle class people understand and appreciate the value of education, especially a good one as it would guarantee a good job which will translate to a relatively comfortable life as well as an improvemenr in one’s social status or position especially if their educational attainment enables them to get a job that is respectable and gives them more authority to wield besides the perks and compensation that goes with it (Ford, 2010).

The next criterion, as well as being corollary to the first one is the kind of jobs a middle-class person holds. It is generally accepted that a person belonging to the middle-class, owing to the educational attainment they have (which is a college degree), will land a white-collar job.

Such jobs would be teachers and professors, nurses and doctors, journalists, writers, architects, engineers, and lawyers; in the corporate world, white-collar begins with entry-level office staff running up to (mid-level) managers to executives and other professions with similar functions or duties, this also includes those belonging to the “lower middle-class” as well since these jobs do not fall under the kind that entails getting their hands dirty or exert a lot of physical effort. As one former American president would put it, work “Americans won’t do” which is more commonly known as “blue-collar” jobs (Hamilton, 1966, p.

193; cited in Dobbs, 2006, p. 23). If there is a common denominator found among these jobs, these jobs require at least a college degree and a professional license (for some of them). These jobs are also indicative of the degree of autonomy they provide, not to mention the incentives that go with the job. In addition to the educational degree, these positions or jobs are also commensurate to the experience and expertise accumulated by the individual. Corollary to these, educational attainment and occupation influences the lifestyle and values middle-class people have.

As mentioned before, those with a family can afford to send their children to school from kindergarten all the way to college though for some, their children would strike out on their own by the time they are 18 years old and pay their own way to college. They can afford to buy a house in the suburbs and a car (even if it is second-hand) which is considered a basic necessity rather than a luxury. With this car they can travel to work or elsewhere or even commute to the cities even if they own a car. In their home, they possess the basic necessities such as a television set, refrigerator and a personal computer.

Their jobs enable them to pay the bills for utilities such as electricity, water, gas and even cable/sattelite television with still enough to spare for other expenses. They do not have to worry about where they will get the money to make ends meet as opposed to the poor who worry about such things yet they are not like the rich who could afford to splurge and live large. They do not need to line up every day at social welfare centers for unemployment insurance yet they are entitled to basic services like health care, partly with the help of the government and partly out of their own pocket which they can afford.

They can afford to go on vacations abroad on holidays though not as often as the rich and famous (Wolpin, 2010, p. 6). These are the typical lifestyles of the middle class though in recent times, those who belong to the “working-class” have also considered their way of life akin to that of the “traditional” middle class (Dobbs, 2006, p. 24). In terms of values and outlook, middle-class people see money as something to be managed, as opposed to the poor who sees it as a means for survival or the rich who regards it as something to be invested.

They think about the future as opposed to the poor who are focused on the present as they need to survive or the rich who hold on to past traditions. Where the poor focuses on survival, and the rich on their social network and connections to get by in life, the middle class takes pride in work and achievement in the pursuit of their goals in life, for some, it is the American Dream. It is because of this that the middle class are considered the true representatives of American society for the average values of American society are found in them.

They are hard-working though not struggling, and they impart these values to their children as shown with the simple act of doing household chores; they are frugal and not frivolous,but this does not mean they are miserly and would allow themselves to indulge a little on the finer things in life when the opportunity presents itself as a way of rewarding themselves. They are law-abiding citizens, and one example of their diligence is shown in paying their income taxes as opposed to the poor who are practically exempt and the rich where some tend to avoid paying taxes. All in all, “traditional” American values are preserved by the middle class.

Thanks to the media, these values have been all but forgotten as the attention has focused to the rich and famous and corporations. They are the true heirs of the traditions and heritage passed on by the Founding Fathers who also hailed from similar backgrounds as they were building a nation out of community. They are practically the people who created America yet somewhere along the way, they have been forgotten and the credit has been stolen from them. The challenge now facing the middle class is to fight back to regain their “birthright” because this determines where America will go in the future.

References

Dobbs, L. (2006). War on the Middle Class. New York: Viking. Ford, C. (2010). What are the characteristics of the poor, middle class, and wealthy? Retrieved 20 July 2010 http://www. moneyhelpforchristians. com/poor-middle-class-wealthy/. Hamilton, R. F. (1966). “The Marginal Middle Class: A Reconsideration. ” American Sociological Review 31 (2). 192-199. Kendall, D. E. (2005). Framing Class: Media Representations of Wealth and Poverty in America. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield.

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