Social class mobility dismissed as a myth

Patrick Kempfer, Opinion Editor

In the New York Times article, “Shadowy Lines That Still Divide,” we are told of a progressive disparity between those who have much, those who have little, and that the gap between them is ever growing. Whereas once upon a time, a person’s economic class was evidenced by their car, clothes, home, and even occupation and vacation spot (if any), now, when meeting someone for the first time, it is easy to misjudge a person based on those criteria.

In the United States today, despite a wide rift in notable class, such as education, occupation, income and wealth, more Americans have access to wondrous luxuries once thought out of reach for the common person, and this contributing factor, along with a lack of standard attire for those of the upper crust, has made it nearly impossible to know who the haves are, and who are the have-nots.

Scott and Leonhardt describe a bleak occurrence in today’s economic system, where some believe the possibility of moving up the class ladder is still as much an option as it was 30 or 40 years ago. The truth is, there is far less mobility than ever before in this country, and the disparaging numbers are growing. Most U.S. families were once capable of winning the American Dream with hard work and dedication to faith and democracy. However, as it seems now, or at least in 2005, when the article was published, losing whatever a family had to start with is more likely than gaining something new and the very idea of accruing wealth is becoming quite absurd to many lower class citizens.

As diversity becomes more accepted and advocated for, the asthetic looks that outlined a person’s class are harder to define. The rich no longer look rich, while the poor are able to dress in more elaborate attire, thereby blurring the lines between the two, and thus creating a the muddled society we see today. Nevertheless, class is just as important in today’s society as it ever has been, if not more so, and that is evidenced in the success of one’s wealth and educational reach, and pocket of wealth. Wealth being measured by assets, savings, etc., and education regarded in terms of secondary schools, major universities, and the degrees they serve.

What so many seem to be so inexplicably ignorant of is that, regardless of a white person’s social class status, if you are white, you are tolerated, much more so than a member of a minority race. In particular, more so than black males, and this is especially true in the job market. In fact, there is evidence to support that large numbers of “black sounding names” are immediately rejected when viewed on an application. Now, obviously, people of all color, race, and ethnicity deal with some level of rejection in the pursuit of good paying jobs, but merely standing two bad things next to each other doesn’t make one less or more than it actually is, it simply shows then two examples of things not favored.

Is the American Dream a myth, perpetuated by the elite to keep the “workers” working, while the rich sit pretty, but only occasionally tossing an economic bone to satisfy the lie that hard work will somehow contribute to a successful climb from lower to middle, to upper class? This is not to suggest that hard work doesn’t pay off, but it maybe does not pay off in the way that the myth would have us believe. Hard work is sown, and the benefits are reaped, and this is usually demonstrated in acts of generosity, even when the one who has worked still has little, and it goes to show how an achievement can add to one’s character before his or her bank statement.

Perhaps I’m a little jaded, as my upbringing was often spent longing for what I couldn’t have, and no matter how hard my mother worked (my father died when I was 4 years), she could never get us out ahead.

My grandparents, on both sides, were working class, at best, and were lucky to have long careers before the time of their deaths. As it is now, I am working hard to achieve success, but not in outward mobility. If anything, my hope is to make a career out of my passion for advocacy, and make a decent living in that field. However, I am collecting enough debt as I do so that I will likely be in debt for the majority of my life. Strangely enough, though, I am not as worried about that as some others I know, particularly those entering the human services field, and my flippant attitude toward mobility is even alarming to some.

Still, having lived with next to nothing, and prioritizing my life around substances instead of food, shelter and finances, I can easily float through life knowing that there are far more important things that demand my attention than the car I drive, the number of bedrooms in my residence, or the zeros on my paychecks. I am fortunate enough to have a wealth of perspective.