Class in America

I often refer to class — or socioeconomic status (SES) — as do many other writers. SES is said to be a function of “a person’s work experience and of an individual’s or family’s economic and social position in relation to others, based on income, education, and occupation.” Wealth counts, too. As do race and ethnicity, to be candid.

Attempts to quantify SES are psuedo-scientific, so I won’t play that game. It’s obvious that class distinctions are subtle and idiosyncratic. Class is in the eye of the beholder.

I am a beholder, and what I behold is parsed in the table below. There I have sorted Americans into broad, fuzzy, and overlapping classes, in roughly descending order of prestige. The indented entries pertain to a certain “type” of person who doesn’t fit neatly into the usual taxonomy of class. What is the type? You’ll see as you read the table.

(To enlarge the image, open it in a new tab and use your browser’s “magnifying glass.”)

What about retirees? If their financial status or behavioral traits don’t change much after retirement, they generally stay in the class to which they belonged at retirement.

Where are the “rednecks”? Most of them are probably in the bottom six rungs, but so are huge numbers of other Americans who (mostly) escape opprobrium for being there. Many “rednecks” have risen to higher classes, especially but not exclusively the indented ones.

What about the growing mob of whiny, left-wing fascists? For now, they’re sprinkled among the various classes depicted in the table, even classes at or near the top. In their vision of a “classless” society, they would all be at the top, of course, flogging conservatives, plutocrats, malefactors of great wealth, and straight, white (non-Muslim, non-Hispanic), heterosexual males — other than those of their whiny, fascist ilk.

Here’s what I make of all this. Class in America isn’t a simple thing. It has something to do with one’s inheritance, which is not only (or mainly) wealth. It has mainly to do with one’s intelligence (which is largely of genetic origin) and behavior (which also has a genetic component). Class also has a lot to do with what one does with one’s genetic inheritance, however rich or sparse it is. Class still depends a lot on acquired skills, drive, and actual achievements — even dubious ones like opining, acting, and playing games — and the income and wealth generated by them. Some would call that quintessentially American.

My family background, on both sides, is blue-collar. I wound up on the senior manager-highly educated rung. That’s quintessentially American.

There’s a lot here to quibble with. Have at it.

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