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May 21, 2007


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I'd say that claiming the Middle Class are those that don't have to work for a living would be a pretty disconnected point of view. If the Middle Class represents the average (hence the term "Middle") then that means the average American can go three months without work. Seems pretty unlikely, no?

Might point to why so many in the Upper Class feel that can call themselves Middle Class. You can't define Middle Class in terms of the wealthiest 1%.

Class isn't only about cash in hand. It's about access and lifestyle.


Isn't the average "middle class income" $36K or so?

Also, anyone can save money... I'm not convinced that working for three months is necessarily an accurate barometer of one's true worth, income, or situation.

Has anybody read CLASS by Paul Fussell? An old but still quite good book.

malachy walsh

The Marxist is wrong. Dead wrong.

AND, there are lots of people in the US in so-called "working class" jobs who make 6 figures a year. People who work in construction, work on assembly lines, etc, who do very very well.

Col's suggestion that people read CLASS by Paul Fussell is right on.

Fussell suggests that money is part of the class equation in America. But it's a small part. And it's not truly at the heart of what defines class here in the states.

In fact, it's misleading for some of the reasons stated above.

Class is better defined by mindset. By mutually shared desires and dreams. To paraphrase Fussell - by how much you want to make your neighbors jealous over a coffee table and how much you care about who cares about that coffee table.

Zack Calhoon

I love that this conversation has morphed into a discussion of the definition of class.

I agree with Freeman. Middle class should address the middle. It is, however, very easy for any number of people who definitely qualify as Upper class to lump themselves in with this group. There seems to be some kind of guilt for some people about having money, so they don't want to be labelled as wealthy.


Hi Isaac,

“theatrosphere” That’s a keeper, I think.

What about that “creative class” designation that has been bandied about so much in the last few years? Most of my peers have left whatever “class” designation in which they were raised and have migrated to the creative class. Of course one can never really shake one’s upbringing (or necesarily would want to), but isn’t that the melting pot experiment at work in all this. The rich kids are not necessarily better equipped for success than the poor ones. Of course that then comes down to your definition of success, wealth (and fame) being the dominant indicator of such in the dominant culture. But you can’t really buy your way into an art journal or into significance in the History of Great Ideas. Towards a Poor Theatre.


Thanks for this Isaac and commenters. I'm backing off this bit for a while, but here a few thoughts:

That the average income is around $36K seems about right to me. I guess the question is whether or not the average person can continue to be defined as middle class.

I agree with everyone that says that money is only part of the equation--but it's a *really* important part, because access and lifestyle flow largely from access to money.

Looking at income exclusively is problematic, because often the people who are best positioned to take $36K non-profit dream jobs might be people whose networks already include access to wealth. There's a lot of good journalism out there talking about the fact that graduates with large loan debts can't afford to work in social services/humanities/etc.

The aspiration issue is problematic to me, because a person's aspiration might not be a materialistic one--it might be a genuine desire to do good by devoting their life to non-profit or teaching work. But it's easier for a person to make a life in one of the "vow of poverty" professions if they've had some advantages up to that point.


I guess I would pose this scenario (based on no one I've actually met):

Actor in his mid-twenties went to a private school, has parents who are prominent members of the business community or even the Arts Community. Has had the advantages of access to both money, education and professionals within his chosen field.

He moves to New York, and due to his dedication to make it on his own as an actor (an admirable idea) makes very little money for a very long time.

Is this person "working class," (he makes very little money), "middle class" (he isn't rich, but is financially solvent)or "upper class" (because of his background and access to education and resources.)

He might actually have very little take home pay. But could anyone refer to this person as working class based on his own "net worth?"

malachy walsh

I think another book that's worth reading is Barbara Ehrenriech's NICKEL AND DIMED - about the working poor - which is what many here seem to be calling working class.

The monetary equations dealing with class are mostly accountant definitions - great for politics and bumperstickers, but not very helpful in really understanding what's going on.


WOW. This sparked a lot of thought, didn't it? Awesome. Since we're defining classes and figuring out where we fit in, I recommend everyone check out the NY Times special website about class, Class Matters
They define things in more relative and useful terms and break class down into Occupation, Income, Education, and Wealth.

And if you really want to know where you stand, click "Where Do You Fit In" on the Times site to play a little game.

They published a pretty excellent book using these materials. It spent a lot of time exploring the concrete, life and death consequences of class.

Alison Croggon

For much of my life I've lived below the poverty line, but I'd call myself middle class. This came home to me when I was a reporter, and was given a pretty awful job which involved intervewing a bunch of poor people for what was called the "Blanket Appeal", classic old fashioned charity...awful because it was so patronising (what's it like to be so poor, eh?) I spoke mostly to women, and I realised the only real difference between me and them was education (I had a job, but at that time my wage was below the poverty line, less than the dole) and what goes with that, a sense of agency about the life choices I could make.


Worse among my peers are those who have surrendered their identity to the archetype of the Starving Artist. This archetype conveniently forgets that 24,000 people in this world actually do die of starvation every single day. Three-fourths of the deaths are children under the age of five. No art for them.

Art is a product designed and consumed within the First World. We are the elite 10% of the world with the leisure to design toys and entertainment for ourselves. Many of us come from the modest end of this “leisure class” (even the “working class” in this country still have some leisure to manage, saving for the new TV, etc.), thus we are prone to identifying at least partially with the Starving Artist archetype. For instance, artists who rant against the “trust fund kids" or highlight their “financial plight to create art” largely lack the consciousness of the relative privilege their lives afford toward creating their art.



I think art is designed and consumed beyond the first world, but more than that, at least with regards to the first world, isn't it worth exploring what it costs to get work going?

I think the burden of debt that "artists" undertatake to do what interests them is actually part of a broader american issue related to a culture that says you can have what you want if you just follow your dreams.

It's changing the economics of our social structure and doing some damage to the traditional American myth that so many believe to be true: You can have what you want.

Alison Croggon

Art is not "a product designed and consumed in the First World" except by the most narrow of definitions, all of which I'd take issue with. Rembetika, fado or any kind of folk art are made and enjoyed by poor people. Why is Neruda so heroicised in Chile? Because even the poorest man or woman can say his poems...

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