Further, while some upward mobility did exist, competition among small business entrepreneurs and economic instability caused by depression and financial panics created just as much downward mobility (Ibid. At 58).
Housing among the poor in the cities usually consisted of multiple families (as many as 8) living in homes designed for just one. The price of rent was disproportionately high because the numbers of immigrants in the teeming cities kept demand higher than supply (Ibid. At 132). As a result, slum housing developed and the risk of fire and disease became a daily risk for the urban lower class.
The middle class enjoyed much better conditions. While downward mobility was always possible, the middle class could typically expect rising wages and could afford moderate consumerism, that is, purchasing magazines, clothing, books and some of the new manufactured goods becoming more and more available. A basic middle class characteristic was the traditional nuclear home where the male earns a wage by working full time outside of the home and the female retained jurisdiction over domestic matters. More and more middle class households were presided over by the maternal values and a strong sense of Protestant spiritualism (Ibid. At 58).
For the very wealthy, not only would their lifestyle not resemble the poor working class, their lives would very often not come into contact with each other at all. The wealthy lived in neighborhoods far removed from the teeming inner cities, rode to the factories they owned in private carriages and employed servants to conduct their daily menial affairs (Ibid. At 57).. The food they ate, the clothes they wore and the diversions they partook of on a daily basis were all luxuries beyond the comprehension of the average worker, who struggled to buy an occasional ice cream cone for his children (Ibid. At 58).
The role of indentured servants and freed slaves in the class structure of the cities.
Indentured servants were much more popular and prevalent before the Revolutionary War; the practice did extend into the 19th century though with much less frequency.
Early indentured servants made a contractual commitment to labor for a specified period of time agreed with the shipper prior to sailing to America. The shipper recouped his transportation costs by selling the servant's contract on arrival or by agreeing to be bound to servitude to the extent necessary to pay off his transportation debt within a specified time period, unless his debt could be paid by other means such as through family or friends. This system of called the "redemptioner" system was the more popular form of servitude in the migrant servant trade by the 1750s (Tomlins at 7).
As far class structure, they were placed below the poor working class and above slaves ((Ibid. At 20). The performed the same basic types of labors as the colonial urban slaves and were most often immigrants of Western Europe (Scotch-Irish and German descent). While, most commonly found in New York and Philadelphia, they provided a high percentage of the manual labor in the early colonial cities (Ibid. At 20).
Freed slaves had a unique place as far as class in American society in the 18th and 19th centuries. Freed slaves migrated toward northern cities in large numbers. In the cities they found ample employment opportunities; many men as laborers but a few as skilled artisans and many women as domestic servants, but a few as shopkeepers and nurses. Despite their relative gains and opportunity, freed blacks were still by and large poor and property-less (Ibid. At 70).
Freed slaves and African-Americans that were still slaves fought their class struggle, at least at first, in terms of a struggle for culture. Their institutions were clearly and proudly marked as 'African.' Often times, the freed slaves enjoyed more stable and reliable cultural institutions than did the whites living in the same lower class neighborhoods (Ibid. At 72). In the middle of the 18th century, however, free blacks became their own class, as the legislation and ordinance passed by various states and cities excluded blacks, whether slave or free, from using many public accommodations (Ibid. At 73).
Chudacoff, Howard P. And Judith E. Smith. The Evolution of American Urban Society. Prentice Hall, Inc.:…