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The place and role of social class within the American society
The issue of social class has been an agenda for discussion and even legislation over several decades now. The societal structure is such that groupings along the social classes cannot be wished away, the best that can be done is to ensure mutual co-existence of people between these classes within the community. Many scholars have come up with studies on social class and how this can be ended but little practical actions have been successfully executed so far, which then begs the question of the place of social class, the role and the influence that social class has on the society in the contemporary society.
In order to get the explanations to the above, it will be the pursuit of this paper to look into several aspects, concepts and perspectives to do with social class. It will highlight the historical background to do with social classes and brings out the differences that there are between different social classes. It also highlights the significant historical moments that reshaped the perspectives on social classes and the effect or influence they had on the history of the American society. It will also highlight the role that social class has played in the reshaping of the American society from time to time and the interaction that this concept has with the political developments within the society. Further, it will highlight the contemporary perspectives of social class and how globalization influences or affects social class as well as the interplay between social classes and politics as well as the workplace and social class considerations.
Social class plays a significant role in shaping the American society to what it is today and influences the interaction of people in different social classes and the interaction in terms of politics as well as influencing the economic trends of given regions.
Though there are various definitions fronted by scholars from diverse backgrounds and disciplines, in the context of this paper, the sociologists provide the best definition for the concept of social class. Sociologists define social class as a grouping that is based on similar social factors such as education, wealth, income and occupation, factors that impact how much prestige and power an individual wields. Consequently, social stratification is a reflection of unequal distribution of resources. In many cases having more money means one has more power and greater opportunities.
Max Weber who was a sociologist in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century argued that the social class concept had everything to do with economic interests. To him, social class was a quantifiable economic position. Weber views capitalism and the labor and class relations as being voluntary and comprising of compromise. However, Karl Marx sees capitalism as the source of class conflict hence a very destructive system as opposed to Weber's view that capitalism and social stratification is natural and permanent. Often, class is determined by the material possessions that an individual or family has like land, money and other forms of assets. Within this concept, the occupation is a key consideration since it comes with financial rewards, stability as well as other benefits like the healthcare benefits. The people who occupy these different classes know each other predominantly based on the material factors as they get to know of the occupation of the other person, their neighborhood, the clothing they wear, the cars they drive and even from general conversation (style, topics) can easily tell the class of an individual (Wright E.O., 2003). In the U.S.A. there are various categorization of social classes, people from different backgrounds have contested the number of classifications though there is a general agreement on the following categories;
The upper class is termed as the top class in America and only the powerful elite get to see the view from this class. The upper class makes up about 1% of the population in the U.S. The America's upper class has a lot of power and as corporate leaders their decisions significantly affect the policies that run the society at large. This class comprises of the high and mighty of the society whose families have been rich for generations. They are people who are extremely wealthy and live off the income which they
inherited despite the fact that they could be making money as well. Members of this class attend or must have attended colleges and the most prestigious and finest educational institutions in the country. They have the luxury of living in exclusive neighborhoods and meet at expensive social clubs which are out of reach for any other classes in the society. They also have significant influences on instruments that determine the opinions of the society like they run major radio broadcasts, television stations, magazines, publishing houses and sports franchise. These act as their mouth pieces and also help cover up their inequities whenever they may happen. The upper-class or the elite also have access to the best healthcare facilities in the United States as compared to the other classes and they are know to consume beyond the required minimum (Veblne T., 2003:Pp51-52).
This is the class where most of the people in America categorize themselves. These are the people with annual incomes between $20,000 and $150,000, these salary variations are wide but apparently people from both ends call themselves middle class (U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration, 2010). Therefore this class is divided into two the upper middle class and the lower middle class. The upper middle class comprises of those that hold bachelors and post graduate degrees. The lower middle class members hold degrees or associate degrees from technical or community colleges. Middle class members work hard so as to live fairly comfortable lives. The upper middle class are in careers that earn them comfortable incomes such as doctors, stockbrokers, lawyers and CEO's. Their families live in nice homes and drive nice cars. They receive quality healthcare and their children go to good schools. In the lower middle class, members earn lower incomes from occupations such as small business owners, managers, secretaries and teachers. With their incomes they can afford decent mainstream lifestyles, however, they struggle to maintain it. They do not have significant income that can allow them to save. They can afford healthcare for their families.
This includes people who are minimally educated typically high school educated. The members are electricians, carpenters, truck drivers, police officers, factory workers and so on. This category is also termed as blue-collar class due to the fact that many of its members wear uniforms to go to work as opposed to suits. Those in this class are most likely to be part of unions as opposed to middle class. The working class more sensitive to the way they are treated by the middle class hence there are differences and confrontations sparked between these two classes. They can afford basic healthcare for their families and also live decent houses with the basic provisions of the house available to them. They are the group that do not control or own the means of production in the society (Fieldes D., 2004:Pp1).
The people who belong to this class are unskilled and low paying employment. Their jobs rarely offer benefits like healthcare or retirement plans since their jobs are seasonal or temporary. Some of the common jobs that they hold are migrant farm workers, sharecroppers and day laborers. These are jobs that do not require a lot of skills and indeed some of them are school dropouts, illiterate and unable to read but still can handle these jobs. They earn incomes that are too meager to even support their families. They have high economic insecurity and are at risk of poverty (Wicks-Lim J., 2012).
These are the main classification of social classes, however, it is worth noting that there are possibilities of one changing from one social class to another, this is what is referred to as social mobility. Social mobility is the ability of changing positions within a social stratification system. When people diminish or improve their economic status in a way which impacts their social class then they are said to have experienced social mobility. The working class and working poor lack a social mobility within the U.S. class structure. This is because they are not able to secure jobs that are better paying due to their minimal education.
Fieldes D., (2004). From Exploitation to Resistance and Revolt: The Working Class. Retrieved November 21, 2014 from https://digitalcollections.anu.edu.au/bitstream/1885/42632/2/Working_class.pdf
US Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration, (2010). Middle Class in America. Retrieved November 21, 2014 from http://www.commerce.gov/sites/default/files/documents/migrated/Middle%20Class%20Report.pdf
Veblne T., (2003). The Theory of the Leisure Class. Retrieved November 21, 2014 from http://www.thevenusproject.com/downloads/ebooks/theory-leisure-class.pdf
Wicks-Lim J., (2012). The Working Poor: A Booming Demographic. Retrieved November 21, 2014 from http://www.peri.umass.edu/fileadmin/pdf/other_publication_types/magazine____journal_articles/Fall_2012_Wicks-Lim.PDF
Wright E.O., (2003). Social Class. Retrieved November 21, 2014 from http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/~wright/Social%20Class%20 -- %20Sage.pdf
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