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The Difference between Middle Class and Working Class

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Whether a person, a family, or a group of people belong to a certain social class is attributed to their income, their wealth, their power, and their position in society. There has not been a clear definition of the different social classes. It is better not to think of these terms according to strict rules. Broadly speaking, these classes are generally linked to income and wealth, but it is normal for people to move across these classes during their lifetime. A person born in a working class could, at some point in life, cross over to the middle class. It is still quite beneficial to understand the behavioral patterns of these classes for a variety of different reasons: from the psychographic and demographic point of views, for socioeconomic studies, or even marketing and promotional activities in the business world.

The Working Class

This class includes individuals, groups, and families who can be broadly characterized as having none or some college education and living in rented homes. If someone of the working class does own their own home, they usually acquired the home after accumulating savings over a long period. Even then, they have probably lived in the home for an extended period of time, and the home may be outdated or shabby. Members of the working class are usually employed in manual, unskilled, or semi-skilled jobs at workplaces where they have little or no control. This lack of control is related to having little or no college education, not having enough control at their workplaces, and not being able to accumulate as many assets. This is in stark comparison with the much better educated and professional middle class, which does enjoy a better status in the workplace and in society. The working class is by no means a homogenous group when it comes to values, religion, culture, or political inclination. In the United States, it is, however, mostly comprised of whites, though many people of other races and many women belonging to different ethnic groups are included in this group. If this group is compared to the middle class in terms of attachment to their religious and ethnic identities, people belonging to this group seem to have stronger affiliations with these identities. 1  Interestingly, the lower middle class grouping that is supposedly a slot above the working class and more likely to be better off as far as education, income, and job security are concerned,  often come close to or sometimes overlap with the working class.

The Middle Class

This class is comprised of people who normally have a college education and are involved in professional work. A good number of middle class people have even reached high positions in their workplaces, whether public or private. Members of the middle class are thus able to afford a college education at state, private, or professional colleges and have 4-year Bachelor degrees. They are usually owners of a home and can move up the ladder to afford a nicer and more comfortable house. They can control their lives, even the number of hours they must work in a week. At their workplaces, they have positions that involve supervising many other workers. As far as financial freedom and economic security are concerned, they have substantial economic security, which adds comfort to their lives. Individuals and families belonging to the middle class represent various values, religions, cultures, and political inclinations. In the United States, the middle class is disproportionately white. The upper strata of the middle class, commonly referred to as the upper middle class, can usually afford such luxuries as travel for leisure and luxurious products and services. 1

Academic and Professional Research

The Center for Working-Class Studies at Youngstown State University was the first academic and interdisciplinary center in the United States that embraced the task of understanding and showing the working-class culture to the world. The center does not agree with broad based definitions, claiming instead that the working class cannot be stereotyped as solely industrial blue color workers and their families. According to the center, the working class is a lot more diverse and has traditionally been so. Whether regarding race, religion, occupation, or geographic location, the center states on its website that the working class does not fit into any of these boxes neatly. 2

Criteria for Class Division

Class divisions, according to the CWCS, depend on economies. The amount earned by an individual and the nature of their work primarily govern the inclusion into any class. Thus, the center’s deductions tally well with what was described earlier—that the following criteria determine inclusion in a class:

  • education,
  • income,
  • wealth, and
  • one’s ability to control other people’s work.

These factors mainly determine one’s inclusion in one class or another. As such, anyone whose work is based on an hourly wage and who is supervised by someone else is a part of the working class. Both blue-collar industrial workers, the clerical workers at offices and restaurants etc., and the workers at retail outlets are all a part of the working class. As opposed to them, anyone who earns a salary and has a supervisory role at a workplace would be the in the middle class. Thus, we can conclude that many middle-level workers working for small, medium, or large organizations, retail store managers, teachers, and many professionals working in the medical profession would be classified as belonging to the middle class. Owners and entrepreneurs would be a class further up, i.e., the Upper Class, especially if their earnings or salaries place them among the top 1 or 2% of household income holders. 2

Class Divisions at play

Classes have political connotations as well. They can create divisions among people and allegiances between groups. The managerial interests at a workplace are sometimes at odds with those of the workers. They might be striving to get the most labor at the least possible cost. The workers, on the other hand, would want to get the maximum possible wages for the lowest possible amount of work. The two groups must arrive at a compromise that defines the equilibrium where the actual work takes place. Government regulations and policies can affect one class more than another. Classes are also linked with ‘culture’ too as per the center’s research.

Bonding within Class

Families, neighbors, communities, and co-workers of the working class have a stronger bonding as compared to the middle class. While there is more stress on self-actualization and personal advancement in middle-class individuals, the persons belonging to the working class tend to concentrate more on everyday issues. The thinking that prevails among the general population about the various classes and the attitudes towards them is also influenced by the general culture and what is spoken about these classes on TV and Radio. 2

Avoid Broad Definitions

However,  broad definitions must be avoided. It would be hard to define a truck driver as one belonging to the working or middle class. He might be the owner cum driver of the truck. Moreover, a simple non-unionized worker might be earning $8–9 per hour, whereas a unionized worker might be earning twice that amount. As such, sometimes classifying people based on work and income can get confusing. Thus, the diverse and complex nature of classes is hard to capture, especially at the peripheries. Notwithstanding, there are common characteristics between people in the working class, and the same is true for the middle class. Working-class people are known to exhibit a strong bonding to families and communities. They face more occupation-related hazards at their workplaces as compared to their middle-class counterparts. They are sometimes stereotyped negatively in society as well. Their main concern is their limited education because this is the one factor that affects their future more than anything else. In a political sense, however, they represent a sizable voting bloc. 2

The Effect of Economic Crisis on Classes

In his article in Global Research, Professor James Petras observes that, even after experiencing prolonged economic crisis from 2008 to 2011, the working class did not resort to mass uprisings or national protests or resistance. While this might appear as paradoxical, it is noteworthy to see that both the working and the middle classes were both hit hard during that period causing them to lose work, wages, benefits, and mortgages, etc. However, both classes seem not to be affected by these problems en mass or en bloc. Even within a certain class, some people were probably affected negatively while certain others benefitted. Interestingly, unionized public workers benefitted more than private workers who had to face harsher taxes. 3

The working class and the middle class can thus be broadly classified; however, there will always be some confusion and overlapping, and at times, the two classes might be subjected to economic forces in a similar way. While it might seem that the working class gets a harder hit,  the unionized worker is often an exception to this generalization. The core difference lies in each group’s ability to have access to a college education, which translates into other, greater differences that divide these two classes further.


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References :


[0]1 Chris, J. (2015). Working Class vs Middle Class. Joseph Chris.

[1]2 Linkon, S. (2008). Who is working class? Working Class Studies.

[2]3 Petras, P. J. (2011). America. The Working Class Versus the Middle Class. Global Research.

[3]https://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/5789908005

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