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The American reality: Life in the working class

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  1. Introduction
  2. Marx's description of the working-class
  3. Intra-family relationships between parents
  4. A study of poor single mothers by Edin and Kefalas
  5. Relationships with children
  6. Networks of care
    1. Role of extended family
    2. The role of friends
    3. Facing childcare difficulties and the split-shift
    4. Interactions: Encountering difficulties in a changing world
    5. The working-class at work
    6. Attitudes toward government and society
    7. Interactions with educational institutions
  7. Conclusion
  8. Bibliography

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? a class? 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. [...]

[...] As Lareau points out, lots of Americans today still ?believe in the American Dream? and feel that individual capabilities and ingenuities supercede social class as the basic determinant of one's ?life chances.? Lareau feels that this is unfortunately not the case in today's world and that a family's ?social structural location? is a strong determinant of ?family practices? and the future outcomes for children (Lareau 2003:235). Through an increased understanding of the unique dynamics that characterize life in a working-class family, institutions can begin to adapt their policies in order to accommodate people from all types of family backgrounds. [...]

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