YES! Editorial: Class Action
The American class system, particularly when it’s used as a political football, can be confusing territory. There are more than 300 million of us, with ancestries traced back to every nation in the world and tremendous variance in degrees of education, intelligence, income and, for lack of a better term, breeding. Class used to be all about the breeding: If your father owned the fiefdom — and you were the first born son — it was understood that you would one day own the fiefdom, as the children of your father’s subjects would follow in their footsteps as laborers, tradesmen or village idiots. With almost as much zeal as the right to bear arms, our founding fathers envisioned a classless society. In fact, the two were related: No man could be oppressed as long as he had the means to defend himself. The whole idea was kind of ironic, though, coming from a fairly homogenous group of educated landowners, many of whom kept slaves. The joke really is on them, because class dictates much of the society we’ve become; everyone knows that “classless society” is just liberal-speak for communism. And though the middle class has been on the receiving end of plenty of lip service this election season, nobody is really sure where the dividing lines run. Sen. Barack Obama says $250,000 a year is the cut-off point between rich and not-rich. Sen. John McCain offhandedly put the line at $5 million. And yet there is another movement that seeks to define the middle class qualitatively, under the banner of values. Small towns. Hard work. Pot-luck suppers. Frugality, stability and, perhaps, mobility. It’s nonsense, of course: People who make $75,000 a year get divorced, smoke dope and cheat on their taxes just as often as people who pull in $2 million — they just don’t do it with as much style. Here’s what’s real: According to 2006 census figures, there are about 50 million households that fall into the mathematical definition of the middle class, bringing in between $20,000 and $200,000 a year. By performing our jobs, paying our mortgages and taxes, educating our children and gassing our cars, we provide the backbone of the American economy and the core of the social infrastructure. And we are under attack. Our jobs are being sent overseas. Our buying power is diminished due to inflation — hovering right now at about 5 percent — while our wages and salaries have stagnated. Our homes have lost value due, for the most part, to circumstances beyond our control. Rising health-care costs have put many of us just one heart attack away from insolvency. And as a voting bloc we have been disempowered by fragmentation, apathy and fear. This is what binds the middle class, more so than any other denominator. And unless we get it together and act in our own self-interests, we will squander our role as the nucleus of our socety.
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