Thursday, 15 March 2012

Class Divide in America

The New York Times wrote a series about class in America in 2005, and the article I’ve found is an overview and introduction of what the series was about. The series aimed to show whether class influenced American society, where they think of “itself as a land of unbounded opportunity”. I found that the opening article had a mixed view on this; although The New York Times’ political stance has been debated, and it has been argued as to whether or not they are conservative or liberal. As well as this, the newspapers publishers, the Ochs-Sulzberger family, have owned the newspaper for generations and are said to be heavily involved in the newspaper, so this is also taken into consideration when reading the article.

The article starts by stating that the class lines in America used to be very defined: “The upper crust vacationed in Europe and worshiped an Episcopal God. The middle class drove Ford Fairlanes, settled the San Fernando Valley and enlisted as company men. The working class belonged to the A.F.L.-C.I.O., voted Democratic and did not take cruises to the Caribbean.” This suggests that it is now harder to see the difference of class between peoples in contemporary America because things are somewhat priced cheaper, credit is (or at least at the time the series was written) more readily available to lower income families, meaning it is easier for the class lines to become blurred. It also suggests that to some extent there is no longer a class struggle because most people can afford to live the lifestyles that “their grandparents could not live previously”. However, from the Panorama video we watched in Wednesday’s class, it is clear that this is not the case as many Americans, perhaps more than ever, cannot afford healthcare/ insurance or sufficient housing. This can also be supported by the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protest that took place last year.

However the article does agree that class lines are still important in contemporary America, stating: “the proportion of students from upper-income families has grown, not shrunk”. This shows that despite the seemingly shrinking class divides, it is still in fact people of the same class bracket (i.e. the upper middle class and upper classes) that are going to college in America, thus giving them more opportunities to get better, higher paid jobs, allowing them to maintain their class position, whereas the people from the lower classes are not going to college, meaning that they cannot move up the class ladder. However colleges such as Amherst president Andrew Marx have adopted schemes in which to allow people from lower income families to attend college, in an attempt to close the class lines. Even still, this further exemplifies the importance of class because it shows that while the rich and upper classes can easily afford to pay for their education, it is the lower and poorer classes that cannot education, and somewhat implies that they do not work hard enough, especially because of the inherent beliefs of American society which are to work hard in order to achieve success.

The article also mentions other areas of importance for class; for instance in: residence, most affluent Americans live in the suburbs and have “exurban chateaus”, with the article even accusing the affluent of being isolated from the rest of America; family structure, affluent Americans are more likely to get married later and to have children when they are older, compared to less affluent Americans who tend to have children at twenty-two.

In retrospect, although the article appears to claim that class is no longer such an important factor in contemporary America, it seems to go against this. In particular, with regards to education the article does support the idea that class enables children of affluent standing to be educated than children from lower classes. The article also implies that just because it is now harder to tell the classes apart (or who belongs to which class), does not mean that class is no longer an important factor in contemporary American society, in fact class determines (in most cases) what kind of life a person will have; supported by economist Professor Levine at Berkley, California: “while it’s always been important, it’s probably a little more important now”, and this can be seen as true especially since the recession.

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