American middle class
A social class in the United States
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- [L]eaving home is hard, and the social distance of wealth makes it even harder. [...] Just a quick comparison of black and white neighborhoods is enough to illustrate the particular challenges that face black families as they reach for middle class, or try to keep their position. The key fact is this: Even after you adjust for income and education, black Americans are more likely than any other group to live in neighborhoods with substantial pockets of poverty. [...] Black Americans live with a level of poverty that is simply unknown to the vast majority of whites. It’s tempting to attribute this to the income disparity between blacks and whites. Since blacks are more likely to be poor, it stands to reason that they’re more likely to live in poor neighborhoods. But the fact of large-scale neighborhood poverty holds true for higher-income black Americans as well. Middle-class blacks are far more likely than middle-class whites to live in areas with significant amounts of poverty. Among today’s cohort of middle- and upper-class blacks, about half were raised in neighborhoods of at least 20 percent poverty. Only 1 percent of today’s middle- and upper-class whites can say the same. In short, if you took two children—one white, one black—and gave them parents with similar jobs, similar educations, and similar values, the black child would be much more likely to grow up in a neighborhood with higher poverty, worse schools, and more violence. This is an outright disaster for income mobility. Given their circumstances, blacks face a reversal of their gains over the last generation. Simply put, the persistence of poor neighborhoods is a fact of life for the large majority of blacks; it’s been transmitted from one generation to the next, and shows little sign of changing.
- It is assumed that whoever is once a hired laborer is fixed in that condition for life. Now, there is no such relation between capital and labor as assumed; nor is there any such thing as a free man being fixed for life in the condition of a hired laborer. Both these assumptions are false, and all inferences from them are groundless. ... A few men own capital, and those few avoid labor themselves, and, with their capital, hire or buy another few to labor for them. A large majority belong to neither class—neither work for others, nor have others working for them. ... In most of the Southern States, a majority of the whole people of all colors are neither slaves nor masters; while in the Northern, a large majority are neither hirers nor hired. Men, with their families—wives, sons, and daughters—work for themselves on their farms, in their houses, and in their shops, taking the whole product to themselves, and asking no favors of capital on the one hand, nor of hired laborers or slaves on the other. ... There is not of necessity any such thing as the free hired laborer being fixed to that condition for life. Many independent men everywhere in these States, a few years back in their lives, were hired laborers. The prudent, penniless beginner in the world labors for wages a while, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself, then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This is the just, and generous, and prosperous system, which opens the way to all, gives hope to all, and consequent energy, and progress, and improvement of condition to all.
- Abraham Lincoln, President's Message to Congress, December 2, 1861
- As the American middle class continues to collapse, the Federal Reserve reported that 40 percent of Americans lack $400 in disposable income to pay for an unexpected expense like a medical emergency or a car repair. ...43 percent of households live paycheck to paycheck and can't afford to pay for their housing, food, child care, health care, transportation and their cell phone without going into debt. Further, about half of older Americans have no retirement savings... In terms of our young people, hundreds of thousands are unable to go to college because of the cost and millions are dealing with oppressive student debt.