In 1848, as the spread of capitalism and the Industrial Revolution were forever changing the social, political and economic landscape in Europe and America, early social theorist Karl Marx defined the working-class as those laborers who must sell themselves piecemeal
a commodity like every other article of commerce [who] are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market
which has to bear all the burdens of society without enjoying its advantages [and] which forms the majority of all members of society
(Marx 1848:18-19, 49).
Today, American social scientists often define the working-class as those who have limited education, who work in the lower levels of the manufacturing and service sectors and earn an hourly wage. As economic conditions become uncertain, however, more and more of the lower-middle class are beginning to blur into the ranks of the working class as everyone struggles for steady employment in order to make ends meet (Rubin 1994:26). Many estimates suggest that the working-class still comprises a large portion of the population, although various definitions of working-class produce different percentages.
[...] Policymakers should not be afraid to admit that American families are economically and socially stratified because that attitude only prevents the implementation of future accommodations in social policy that will compensate for the advantages (or lack thereof) that children grow up with as a result of their parents' income (Lareau 2003). It seems that most social scholars agree on what is happening to America's low-income families, but they have very different ideas as to why and what can be done to solve it. [...]
[...] in the world outside the family has an immediate and profound effect on life inside. The economy falters and families tremble” (Rubin 1994:26). Rubin also notes that when working-class families struggle under our current policy framework, they are in an especially difficult position because of their seemingly “middle-class” income bracket: don't tap public resources; they reap no benefit from either the pitiful handouts to the poor or from huge subsidies to the rich” (Rubin 1994:31). Working-class families are truly distinct from those above and those below them on the American class ladder. [...]
[...] Conclusion Implications As evidenced in the sections above, working-class families are very different from those above (the middle-class) and those below (the poor) them on the American class ladder. While popular opinion still holds that America is a “classless” society where everyone has an equal chance of climbing to the top, it is clear that children from the lower classes have to overcome significant cultural barriers in order to be accepted by and (successful in) mainstream society. Lareau wrote, “indeed, Americans are much more comfortable recognizing the power of individual initiative than recognizing the power of social class Yet, there is no question that society is stratified” (Lareau 2003:7). [...]
[...] In working class and poor homes, the children's lives were observed to be “slower paced, less pressured and less structured” than those of the middle class children studied. These children did not complain as often about the need to be entertained, while middle class children frequently complained about being when they had no adult-organized activity going on (Lareau 2003:76). Working class and poor parents in the study did not seem to take such a huge interest in children's play—they saw it as just that and not as an opportunity for personal growth or preparation for the future like middle class parents did: both working class and poor families, parents seemed preoccupied by the amount of work involved in caring for children and by the effects of inadequate economic resources” and significant consequence” of this that the children are not trained to see themselves as special and worthy of being catered to in daily life” (Lareau 2003:83). [...]
[...] This is consistent with the observations that adults in working class homes tend to separate their children's worlds from their own (Lareau 2003:116). This is yet another hurdle for working-class children to pass before they can gain social mobility later on, because it does not prepare them for speaking to other adults in authority (such as during college admissions or employment interviews). Verbal skills, including the ability to logically elaborate on statements and to make a good argument, give middle class children an advantage in the institutional world (Lareau 2003:107). [...]
Online readingwith our online reader
Content validatedby our reading committee