Before this class, I like most Americans, was under the impression that there were only three classes in our system. Learning that there are six parts was interesting because I could see the true distinction immediately. Throughout my life, I have lived in various homes in an assortment of environments and I realized that I have had the opportunity to live a lifestyle in each part of the diamond, except of course upper class. I also found it interesting that I was able to live across so many different spectrums of our class system in only 23 years of life except for one. The upper class is the most prominent overly represented class level in America that often draws people to our country and is actually the most elusive and unattainable of all. Ultimately, although I was given the opportunity to experience many of these levels, there are barriers that I and many are born with that prevent elevation. Many people are born into unavoidable circumstances that prevent them from being able to reach the “American dream” that most people in our society strive for.
When I was a child between the ages of three and nine, I lived a lower middle-class lifestyle. I lived in the more rural area of southern California, in Victorville. This living situation was what many would consider ideal, a two-parent household with 2 siblings in a three-bedroom house, in a nice community. We never went without food or even questioned it, the lights and water always worked, and we always felt safe as far as the neighborhood was concerned. Then shortly after I turned 9 my mother and I became homeless, we lived in our car, then in a storage facility, and then on the streets. For the next few years we bounced from place to place, I missed an entire year of school, and we didn’t always have food to eat or a safe place to sleep, but at that age, I didn’t fully realize the circumstances. At the age of 12 my mother gave me to my father and stepmother, they lived in an urban community known as Bassett with a lot of gangs and violent activity. Once again, I lived in a 3-bedroom house, but this time with a total of 13 people, I shared a room with my 2 foster sisters and my stepsister. I was reenrolled in school and allowed to skip a grade, but the schools I attended were poorly funded and poorly organized. There were no resources to prepare us for life after high school and there was a lack of after-school activities and clubs. When I was 18, I moved away to live with my grandmother in Upland California. She lived on the upper end of the foothill, which was considered the nice side of town. With just her, my grandpa, and myself in the 3-bedroom house, we had more than enough space. The community was safe, followed HOA rules and I never questioned whether I would eat that day. I had my own room for the first time in my life with a bed that my feet didn’t hang off, proper transportation, and an abundance of resources at my disposal. Lastly, then at the age of 20, I moved again to live with my dad and help care for him because he was sick. We lived in subsidized housing in an industrial area, but it was a 2 bedroom and it was very affordable for someone working 2 minimum wage jobs, attending school full time, and caring for someone on disability. We often battled with case managers and the social security department to maintain his benefits. These details express the journey of living across multiple classes in a single lifetime, one’s social or economic classes greatly impact their quality of life, so it only makes sense to need more than just three simplistic levels. In reality, there are probably more than just 6 levels, but there is really no way to identify all the different forms of lifestyles being lived in America.
I experienced lower middle, then underclass, followed by working poor, then moved on to upper middle, and now I am currently a working-class citizen. I moved up and down the ladder of the class system repeatedly before the age of 20. I make this distinction because there is one level I have never experienced and that is upper class. There is an array of reasons as to why I could not reach these heights and I believe the first and most important is because I do not have, and I was not born into wealth. Although my grandparents may be considered rich, they are well off enough to have little to no concern regarding money, but this is not wealth. By this, I mean that they do not have extensive assets and acquired property. They do not have “long” money, this is money that last, that can extend across generations. People with wealth own property and have investments, when they die, they often pass their property and assets to a child or family members. These things acquire even greater value as they are passed on through time.
The permanence and the gravity of the estate create stability and protection against the possibility of the family falling into poverty. Wealth in America is often generational meaning that it is passed down through families, resulting in those in power staying in power and controlling who else has or does not have access to that wealth and power. Another related factor of wealth is that in America wealth is predominantly held by those who are white. In class, we looked at a list of the richest people in the United States, and the top ten were all white men. There I a strong connection between the fact that wealth is generational, and that race or ethnicity plays a large part in it in America. This is because those who conquered and profited off of America at its beginning were all white men and those whose backs the nation was built on who were mistreated and discarded were People of Color.
The upper-class society is often what is promoted in media, although in reality, the group is a significantly small amount of people compared to the entire population of the U.S. I never actually realized before just how severe the economic gap is between the upper class and the general population was. The gap intensified in the 1980s, as the population grew, and thus the demand for production increased, but rather than benefiting our society as a whole a majority of the increased profits only lined the pockets of the elite. In the 2000s the gap increased again due to the development of federal tax policies that were formed to benefit the upper class and help them maintain their already excessive wealth.
As previously mentioned, ethnicity and race do play a large part in shaping the social class status of most members of our society. The American Ethnic Hierarchy best depicts how these roles are viewed, on the top tier are European-American Protestants, the second tier is made up of Euro-American Catholics, Jewish people, and most Asians, and on the bottom tier are African Americans, Latins, Native Americans, and some Asians. These tiers somewhat represent the odds an individual may have of upward mobility in America based on the obstacle that is race. Those on the top have no actual distinction from anyone else other than since the beginning of time their ancestors have believed that they are better than others, they reinforced this belief to the point that others believed it as well, and over time they acquired enough resources to be able to systematically oppress those they thought to be beneath them. Over time the ranking order of this hierarchy has remained essentially unchanged, but there have been some changes to the extent that some groups are no longer penalized as much due to prejudice or discrimination as they once were. The second tier, for example, made up of Irish, Italians, Jews, etc.… is no longer particularly marginalized due to their ethnicities, mostly because they are more able to aesthetically assimilate into the dominant culture than those on the third tier. The third tier is made up of People of Color who were enslaved or indentured servants who were mostly involuntarily removed from their homes and forced to migrate and assimilate into a society that was not built for them. The people on the bottom tier are still at a disadvantage in the present day because of these factors. People of Color never had the opportunities, resources, or power to build wealth as white people have had. Not only were they dealt a bad hand, but then they were forced to play it in a game they don’t know how to operate while the cards are stacked against them.
Although I am only half black, I still suffer from some of the disadvantages that come from my ethnicity, like generational poverty. It is seemingly impossible to escape poverty when you are born into it, it’s like starting to play a game in the fourth quarter when the other team is already up 20 – 0. I grew up in a home dependent on government assistance, lacking the resources or the knowledge to find my way out of the pattern. My family couldn’t guide me to higher education or career opportunities because they had never learned how to obtain them either. My school was more focused on preventing violence and teenage pregnancy than showing us how to apply for college or decide what field of work we wanted to go into. I caught a lucky break and someone from outside my community gave me the hand-up I needed. Unfortunately, that was not the case for many of the students, who were mainly Latin or African American. Most of my peers got pregnant young, took industrial jobs to make ends meet, used government programs and assistance to be able to provide for their families, or just joined the military because it seemed like the only other option.
There is still so much to learn about our class system and how it impacts our lives, but one thing is resoundingly clear, we are in desperate need of revision. Our country is on a downward slope both economically and socially. The working-class people are suffering and the underclass is only increasing. Those in the 1% are drifting farther away from the general population and it is crippling the nation. It is only a matter of time before the underclass swallows the entirety of the whole leaving only the elite and the deeply impoverished.