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November 13, 2009


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The term "working class" is just not used much (if at all) in American discourse. Perhaps it might be due to a strong capitalistic mindset, which says that the rich and the actual "middle class" are where they are because of their own work ethic, and so the class that is termed working class in Europe, would be considered to be not working much at all by US capitalists.

US middle class would seem to include everyone who's not "rich". Though coming back to the original phrase used - "poor and middle class", it may be considered to refer to two distinct classes.


An American's take on our national reluctance to call anyone part of the "working class". What sparked this particular blog was something Joe Biden said in a video shown at the Democratic National Convention.



Thanks Miryam - that's a fascinating and beautifully written post.


I'd hypothesize that a few things are contributing to this interesting use. In a country of consumerism, class and value is determined by one's status as a consumer. "Working class" doesn't really exist any more as an identity, because there is no connection between the term and consumerism. It also holds no social or cultural validation. There are very few images of the working class (although there are numerous cultural and social images and conceptions of "the poor;" hence the author's use of that term). What images or social concepts of the working class that do exist are often perpetuated through oral history or family identity. The term is not on the media's palate, because, really, what's the point of marketing to the folks who identify as essentially not having disposable income? And the ability to spend (even if at McDonald's or Wal-mart) is constructed as a middle-class identity; even if the working-class individual does consume, that action is not working-class.

So the term has fallen out of use. Another major factor in this usage, however, is that the working class have virtually no recognized role in public dialogue in the U.S. The job(s) and income of every individual whose opinion is valuable enough to be heard by others engaging in this dialogue (ie: journalists that are read by, for example, the author of this blog) separate these individuals from the "working-class" classification. And success is so tied to money that those who are working-class have little to no opportunity or incentive to acquire the skills necessary to make the transition to these kinds of jobs, so there aren't a lot of "former working-class". Obviously there are virtually no working class people in political positions of power (participation at even the local level is quite low). Causality is something worthy of systematic exploration here.

The website listed is an interesting and useful assessment, although it seems to imply a sort of unified and essentialist working-class identity, of which I'm skeptical.


I'm going to back up SAJ on his comment. My family would be "working class" by what I believe is the modern definition outside the US. My father is a plant worker with a little beyond a education at a technical school. While growing up, he still was a grunt.

My mother has no job outside the home. She does no activity that generates money directly (vacuuming, e.g., generates money indirectly in that there is no need to pay another to do so).

Even so, to my ears, "working class" is either (1) nonexistent; or (2) a term that covers upper-poor and lower-middle class. The term just isn't used in the US anymore. I suppose the closest to "working class" now is "blue-collar worker," isn't it?

When I think of "working class," I think of Liverpudlian dock workers or the Catholic family from Monty Python's Meaning of Life, shipping off their excess kids because the family is too poor to feed them all. This is because the term just isn't used in the US, so I think of people in the UK instead.

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