16.71 The New York Times Class Matters

ISBN 13: 9780805080551

Class Matters

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9780805080551: Class Matters

The acclaimed New York Times series on social class in America―and its implications for the way we live our lives
We Americans have long thought of ourselves as unburdened by class distinctions. We have no hereditary aristocracy or landed gentry, and even the poorest among us feel that they can become rich through education, hard work, or sheer gumption. And yet social class remains a powerful force in American life.
In Class Matters, a team of New York Times reporters explores the ways in which class―defined as a combination of income, education, wealth, and occupation―influences destiny in a society that likes to think of itself as a land of opportunity. We meet individuals in Kentucky and Chicago who have used education to lift themselves out of poverty and others in Virginia and Washington whose lack of education holds them back. We meet an upper-middle-class family in Georgia who moves to a different town every few years, and the newly rich in Nantucket whose mega-mansions have driven out the longstanding residents. And we see how class disparities manifest themselves at the doctor's office and at the marriage altar.
For anyone concerned about the future of the American dream, Class Matters is truly essential reading.
"Class Matters is a beautifully reported, deeply disturbing, portrait of a society bent out of shape by harsh inequalities. Read it and see how you fit into the problem or―better yet―the solution!"
―Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch

"Sinopsis" puede pertenecer a otra edición de este libro.

About the Author:

The New York Times team comprises Anthony DePalma, Timothy Egan, Geraldine Fabrikant, Laurie Goodstein, David Cay Johnston, Peter T. Kilborn, David D. Kirkpatrick, David Leonhardt, Tamar Lewin, Charles McGrath, Janny Scott, Jennifer Steinhauer, and Isabel Wilkerson. Bill Keller is the executive editor of The New York Times.

Class Matters also includes essays by Christopher Buckley, Diane McWhorter,
Richard Price, David Levering Lewis, and Linda Chavez, about their encounters with class when they were growing up.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

CLASS MATTERS (Chapter One)1. Shadowy Lines That Still Divide

Janny Scott and David Leonhardt

Four faces of social class in America today. Top, Erma Goulart, Mauric Mitchell. Bottom, Steve Schoenech, Barbara Freeborn. Their comments are on the page at left. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

There was a time when Americans thought they understood class. 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 AFL-CIO, voted Democratic and did not take cruises to the Caribbean.

Today, the country has gone a long way toward an appearance of classlessness. Americans of all sorts are awash in luxuries that would have dazzled their grandparents. Social diversity has erased many of the old markers. It has become harder to read people’s status in the clothes they wear, the cars they drive, the votes they cast, the god they worship, the color of their skin. The contours of class have blurred; some say they have disappeared.

But class is still a powerful force in American life. Over the past three decades, it has come to play a greater, not lesser, role in important ways. At a time when education matters more than ever, success in school remains linked tightly to class. At a time when the country is increasingly integrated racially, the rich are isolating themselves more and more. At a time of extraordinary advances in medicine, class differences in health and life span are wide and appear to be widening.

And new research on mobility, the movement of families up and down the economic ladder, shows there is far less of it than economists once thought and less than most people believe. In fact, mobility, which once buoyed the working lives of Americans as it rose in the decades after World War II, has lately flattened out or possibly even declined, many researchers say.

Mobility is the promise that lies at the heart of the American dream. It is supposed to take the sting out of the widening gulf between the have-mores and the have-nots. There are poor and rich in the United States, of course, the argument goes; but as long as one can become the other, as long as there is something close to equality of opportunity, the differences between them do not add up to class barriers.

In the spring of 2005, The New York Times published a series of articles on class in America, a dimension of the national experience that tends to go unexamined, if acknowledged at all. With class now seeming more elusive than ever, the articles take stock of its influence in the lives of individuals: a lawyer who rose out of an impoverished Kentucky hollow; an unemployed metal worker in Spokane, Washington, regretting his decision to skip college; a multi-millionaire in Nantucket, Massachusetts, musing over the cachet of his two-hundred–foot yacht.

The series does not purport to be all-inclusive or the last word on class. It offers no nifty formulas for pigeonholing people or decoding folkways and manners. Instead, it represents an inquiry into class as Americans encounter it: indistinct, ambiguous, the half-seen hand that upon closer examination holds some Americans down while giving others a boost.

The trends are broad and seemingly contradictory: the blurring of the landscape of class and the simultaneous hardening of certain class lines; the rise in standards of living while most people remain moored in their relative places.

Even as mobility seems to have stagnated, the ranks of the elite are opening. Today, anyone may have a shot at becoming a United States Supreme Court justice or a CEO, and there are more and more self-made billionaires. Only thirty-seven members of last year’s Forbes 400, a list of the richest Americans, inherited their wealth, down from almost two hundred in the mid-1980s.

So it appears that while it is easier for a few high achievers to scale the summits of wealth, for many others it has become harder to move up from one economic class to another. Americans are arguably more likely than they were thirty years ago to end up in the class into which they were born.

A paradox lies at the heart of this new American meritocracy. Merit has replaced the old system of inherited privilege, in which parents to the manner born handed down the manor to their children. But merit, it turns out, is at least partly class-based. Parents with money, education, and connections cultivate in their children the habits that the meritocracy rewards. When their children then succeed, their success is seen as earned.

The scramble to scoop up a house in the best school district, channel a child into the right preschool program or land the best medical specialist are all part of a quiet contest among social groups that the affluent and educated are winning in a rout.

“The old system of hereditary barriers and clubby barriers has pretty much vanished,” said Eric Wanner, president of the Russell Sage Foundation, a social science research group in New York City that has published a series of studies on the social effects of economic inequality.

In place of the old system, Wanner said, have arisen “new ways of transmitting advantage that are beginning to assert themselves.”

Faith in the System

Most Americans remain upbeat about their prospects for getting ahead. A recent New York Times poll on class found that 40 percent of Americans believed that the chance of moving up from one class to another had risen over the last thirty years, a period in which the new research shows that it has not. Thirty-five percent said it had not changed, and only 23 percent said it had dropped.

More Americans than twenty years ago believe it possible to start out poor, work hard, and become rich. They say hard work and a good education are more important to getting ahead than connections or a wealthy background.

“I think the system is as fair as you can make it,” Ernie Frazier, a sixty-five-year-old real estate investor in Houston, said in an interview after participating in the poll. “I don’t think life is necessarily fair. But if you persevere, you can overcome adversity. It has to do with a person’s willingness to work hard, and I think it’s always been that way.”

Most say their standard of living is better than their parents’ and imagine that their children will do better still. Even families making less than $30,000 a year subscribe to the American dream; more than half say they have achieved it or will do so.

But most do not see a level playing field. They say the very rich have too much power, and they favor the idea of class-based affirmative action to help those at the bottom. Even so, most say they oppose the government’s taxing the assets a person leaves at death.

“They call it the land of opportunity, and I don’t think that’s changed much,” said Diana Lackey, a sixty-year-old homemaker and wife of a retired contractor in Fulton, New York, near Syracuse. “Times are much, much harder with all the downsizing, but we’re still a wonderful country.”

The Attributes of Class

One difficulty in talking about class is that the word means different things to different people. Class is rank, it is tribe, it is culture and taste. It is attitudes and assumptions, a source of identity, a system of exclusion. To some, it is just money. It is an accident of birth that can influence the outcome of a life. Some Americans barely notice it; others feel its weight in powerful ways.

At its most basic, class is one way societies sort themselves out. Even societies built on the idea of eliminating class have had stark differences in rank. Classes are groups of people of similar economic and social position; people who, for that reason, may share political attitudes, lifestyles, consumption patterns, cultural interests, and opportunities to get ahead. Put ten people in a room and a pecking order soon emerges.

When societies were simpler, the class landscape was easier to read. Marx divided nineteenth-century societies into just two classes; Max Weber added a few more. As societies grew increasingly complex, the old classes became more heterogeneous. As some sociologists and marketing consultants see it, the commonly accepted big three—the upper, middle, and working classes—have broken down into dozens of microclasses, defined by occupations or lifestyles.

A few sociologists go so far as to say that social complexity has made the concept of class meaningless. Conventional big classes have become so diverse—in income, lifestyle, political views—that they have ceased to be classes at all, said Paul W. Kingston, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia. To him, American society is a “ladder with lots and lots of rungs.”

“There is not one decisive break saying that the people below this all have this common experience,” Kingston said. “Each step is equal-sized. Sure, for the people higher up this ladder, their kids are more apt to get more education, better health insurance. But that doesn’t mean there are classes.”

Many other researchers disagree. “Class awareness and the class language is receding at the very moment that class has reorganized American society,” said Michael Hout, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. “I find these ‘end of class’ discussions naïve and ironic, because we are at a time of booming inequality and this massive reorganization of where we live and how we feel, even in the dynamics of our politics. Yet people say, ‘Well, the era of class is over.’”

One way to think of a person’s position in society is to imagine a hand of cards. Everyone is dealt four cards, one from each suit: education, income, occupation, and wealth, the four commonly used criteria for gauging class. Face cards in a few categories may land a player in the upper middle class. At first, a person’s class is his parents’ class. Later, he may pick up a new hand of his own; it is likely to resemble that of his parents, but not always.

Bill Clinton traded in a hand of low cards with the help of a college education and a Rhodes scholarship and emerged decades later with four face cards. Bill Gates, who started off squarely in the upper middle class, made a fortune without finishing college, drawing three aces.

Many Americans say that they too have moved up the nation’s class ladder. In the Times poll, 45 percent of respondents said they were in a higher class than when they grew up, while just 16 percent said they were in a lower one. Over all, 1 percent described themselves as upper class, 15 percent as upper middle class, 42 percent as middle, 35 percent as working, and 7 percent as lower.

“I grew up very poor and so did my husband,” said Wanda Brown, the fifty-eight-year-old wife of a retired planner for the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard who lives in Puyallup, Washington, near Tacoma. “We’re not rich but we are comfortable and we are middle class and our son is better off than we are.”

The American Ideal

The original exemplar of American social mobility was almost certainly Benjamin Franklin, one of seventeen children of a candle maker. About twenty years ago, when researchers first began to study mobility in a rigorous way, Franklin seemed representative of a truly fluid society, in which the rags-to-riches trajectory was the readily achievable ideal, just as the nation’s self-image promised.

In a 1987 speech, Gary S. Becker, a University of Chicago economist who would later win a Nobel Prize, summed up the research by saying that mobility in the United States was so high that very little advantage was passed down from one generation to the next. In fact, researchers seemed to agree that the grandchildren of privilege and of poverty would be on nearly equal footing.

If that had been the case, the rise in income inequality beginning in the mid-1970s should not have been all that worrisome. The wealthy might have looked as if they were pulling way ahead, but if families were moving in and out of poverty and prosperity all the time, how much did the gap between the top and bottom matter?

But the initial mobility studies were flawed, economists now say. Some studies relied on children’s fuzzy recollections of their parents’ income. Others compared single years of income, which fluctuate considerably. Still others misread the normal progress people make as they advance in their careers, like from young lawyer to senior partner, as social mobility.

The new studies of mobility, which methodically track peoples’ earnings over decades, have found far less movement. The economic advantage once believed to last only two or three generations is now believed to last closer to five. Mobility happens, just not as rapidly as was once thought.

“We all know stories of poor families in which the next generation did much better,” said Gary Solon, a University of Michigan economist who is a leading mobility researcher. “It isn’t that poor families have no chance.”

But in the past, Solon added, “people would say, ‘Don’t worry about inequality. The offspring of the poor have chances as good as the chances of the offspring of the rich.’ Well, that’s not true. It’s not respectable in scholarly circles anymore to make that argument.”

One study, by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, found that fewer families moved from one quintile, or fifth, of the income ladder to another during the 1980s than during the 1970s and that still fewer moved in the 1990s than in the 1980s. A study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics also found that mobility declined from the 1980s to the 1990s.

The incomes of brothers born around 1960 have followed a more similar path than the incomes of brothers born in the late 1940s, researchers at the Chicago Federal Reserve and the University of California, Berkeley, have found. Whatever children inherit from their parents—habits, skills, genes, contacts, money—seems to matter more today.

Studies on mobility over generations are notoriously difficult, because they require researchers to match the earnings records of parents with those of their children. Some economists consider the findings of the new studies murky; it cannot be definitively shown that mobility has fallen during the last generation, they say, only that it has not risen. The data will probably not be conclusive for years.

Nor do people agree on the implications. Liberals say the findings are evidence of the need for better early-education and antipoverty programs to try to redress an imbalance in opportunities. Conservatives tend to assert that mobility remains quite high, even if it has tailed off a little.

But there is broad consensus about what an optimal range of mobility is. It should be high enough for fluid movement between economic levels but not so high that success is barely tied to achievement and seemingly random, economists on both the right and left say.

As Phillip Swagel, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, put it, “We want to give people all the opportunities they want. We want to remove the barriers to upward mobility.”

Yet there should remain an incentive for parents to cultivate their children. “Most people are working very hard to transmit their advantages to their children,” said David I. Levine, a Berkeley economist and mobility researcher. “And that’s quite a good thing.”

One surprising finding about mobility is that it is not higher in the United States than in Britain or France. It is lower here than in Canada and some Scandinavian countries but not as low as in developing countries like Brazil, where escape from poverty is so difficult that the low...

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Descripción TIMES BOOKS, United States, 2005. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. The acclaimed New York Times series on social class in America--and its implications for the way we live our lives We Americans have long thought of ourselves as unburdened by class distinctions. We have no hereditary aristocracy or landed gentry, and even the poorest among us feel that they can become rich through education, hard work, or sheer gumption. And yet social class remains a powerful force in American life. In Class Matters, a team of New York Times reporters explores the ways in which class--defined as a combination of income, education, wealth, and occupation--influences destiny in a society that likes to think of itself as a land of opportunity. We meet individuals in Kentucky and Chicago who have used education to lift themselves out of poverty and others in Virginia and Washington whose lack of education holds them back. We meet an upper-middle-class family in Georgia who moves to a different town every few years, and the newly rich in Nantucket whose mega-mansions have driven out the longstanding residents. And we see how class disparities manifest themselves at the doctor s office and at the marriage altar. For anyone concerned about the future of the American dream, Class Matters is truly essential reading. Class Matters is a beautifully reported, deeply disturbing, portrait of a society bent out of shape by harsh inequalities. Read it and see how you fit into the problem or--better yet--the solution! --Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch. Nº de ref. de la librería AAS9780805080551

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Descripción TIMES BOOKS, United States, 2005. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. The acclaimed New York Times series on social class in America--and its implications for the way we live our lives We Americans have long thought of ourselves as unburdened by class distinctions. We have no hereditary aristocracy or landed gentry, and even the poorest among us feel that they can become rich through education, hard work, or sheer gumption. And yet social class remains a powerful force in American life. In Class Matters, a team of New York Times reporters explores the ways in which class--defined as a combination of income, education, wealth, and occupation--influences destiny in a society that likes to think of itself as a land of opportunity. We meet individuals in Kentucky and Chicago who have used education to lift themselves out of poverty and others in Virginia and Washington whose lack of education holds them back. We meet an upper-middle-class family in Georgia who moves to a different town every few years, and the newly rich in Nantucket whose mega-mansions have driven out the longstanding residents. And we see how class disparities manifest themselves at the doctor s office and at the marriage altar. For anyone concerned about the future of the American dream, Class Matters is truly essential reading. Class Matters is a beautifully reported, deeply disturbing, portrait of a society bent out of shape by harsh inequalities. Read it and see how you fit into the problem or--better yet--the solution! --Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch. Nº de ref. de la librería BTE9780805080551

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Descripción TIMES BOOKS, United States, 2005. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. The acclaimed New York Times series on social class in America--and its implications for the way we live our lives We Americans have long thought of ourselves as unburdened by class distinctions. We have no hereditary aristocracy or landed gentry, and even the poorest among us feel that they can become rich through education, hard work, or sheer gumption. And yet social class remains a powerful force in American life. In Class Matters, a team of New York Times reporters explores the ways in which class--defined as a combination of income, education, wealth, and occupation--influences destiny in a society that likes to think of itself as a land of opportunity. We meet individuals in Kentucky and Chicago who have used education to lift themselves out of poverty and others in Virginia and Washington whose lack of education holds them back. We meet an upper-middle-class family in Georgia who moves to a different town every few years, and the newly rich in Nantucket whose mega-mansions have driven out the longstanding residents. And we see how class disparities manifest themselves at the doctor s office and at the marriage altar. For anyone concerned about the future of the American dream, Class Matters is truly essential reading. Class Matters is a beautifully reported, deeply disturbing, portrait of a society bent out of shape by harsh inequalities. Read it and see how you fit into the problem or--better yet--the solution! --Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch. Nº de ref. de la librería AAS9780805080551

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