what about our classless society?

I recently watched the BBC adaptation of The Buccaneers, Edith Wharton’s unfinished novel about the daughters of American nouveau-riche sent off to England to marry into aristocracy and, through marriage, elevate their families into the New York elite. What begins as an almost insufferable Jane Austen tale of rich young girls looking for love AND money becomes a rather sharp look at class struggle, which led to me to think about class in the US. As much as we hear about the American Dream draped in equality and notions of a classless society, it’s pretty clear – as The Buccaneers illustrates to some extent – that society is stratified. So what do American classes look like? On what are they based? To answer the second question, classes are based on economics, for a rather obvious reason. And I think it’s safe to safe they look something like this:
Inherited rich: the closest analogue to the British aristocracy, these are the old money families whose historical wealth translates into a family name with political/economical/social cachet – think dynasties like Rockefeller, Rothschild, Kennedy, Bush, and so on.

Self-made rich: actors, athletes, star musicians, business people who have made their own fortunes. More volatile than inherited rich given the lack of a family tradition of wealth, since money gained can be money lost.

Upper middle class (professional): not rich enough to be full independent from the need to work, but working at jobs that pay well-enough that they can have a good deal more luxury than most. Think doctors (specialists), lawyers, bankers, and the like.

Real middle class: Consists of professionals who can afford to own property with some disposable income, but the luxury is restricted and the dependence on a job is strong. In some respects, this is the most fragile class as job losses and increasing costs, combined with a dwindling safety net, means that people who could live well once upon a time are becoming increasingly shut out.

Working class: non-professionals who typically work in manufacturing, retail, and other “blue collar” work. Although unions can offer great benefits, the working class has limited access to property and the luxuries of upper classes. This class is also fragile, as workers are dependent on employers for work – if the employers downsize or go out of business, they can suffer, particularly if they are specialized workers. However, this class also has the opportunity to work themselves up to the middle class.

Poverty class: people who live around the poverty level, entirely dependent on one or several low-paying jobs to pay for the basic necessities.

Homeless poor: no jobs, no homes, no voice in society. My understanding is that there are many homeless vets who slipped through the VA’s cracks, not to forget individuals with mental health challenges and folks who, quite simply, fell into hard times and didn’t have the support network to keep them from falling to the streets.
Not rocket science, to be sure, as far as social taxonomy goes, but I think it meets the common sense test. The question is, what does it mean? Answer:
  1. The greater the wealth, the greater the political power and freedom to live life as one pleases.
  2. With greater access to government, the wealthy have greater control over the agenda and are able to shape it to their own interests, while lower classes have less and less say.
  3. The greater the necessity for a job, the lower the ages, the more a person is dependent on people who provide jobs, the more difficult it is for a person to start their own companies and/or get education/training.
  4. There can be no wealthy class without a poor class to do the work the wealthy don’t want to do. (If no one needs to work because everyone is wealthy, would any work get done?)
Who says there’s no class warfare? With some born at the pinnacle of wealth and freedom, and other born into poverty, there is no equal access to opportunity.

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