Bleg: What do we mean when we mean middle class?
Erik Loomis has a post at LGM titled “The Politics of Angaleena Presley’s American Middle Class.”
Angaleena Presley is a country single and American Middle Class is the name of her latest album. Loomis starts the essay by writing: “Yet even if much of what comes out of Nashville is bad, perhaps no cultural form provides a better window into the state of the white working and middle classes than country music.” He describes Presley’s album as: “Angaleena Presley’s excellent 2014 album American Middle Class suggests the complexity of how country music politics represent the limits of white political consciousness. How often do we see an album of any genre dedicated to dissecting class in any conscious way? Very rarely. So from a political perspective, this is already interesting. Songs like “Pain Pills,” “Grocery Store,” and “Knocked Up” tell well-crafted stories about the white working class that show great sympathy and sensitivity for everyday people. But that her album is titled American Middle Class and not “American Working Class” says a great deal, for not even Presley can escape the divisive politics that undermine class solidarity in the United States.”
Like Loomis, this is a question that has always puzzled me in American politics. What do we mean when we talk about middle class?” I have seen numerous articles about the decline of middle class American life. This article from the Washington Post is typical of the genre. The articles more often than not are about the decline of well-paying jobs for manual laborers, usually unskilled and semi-skilled manual laborers. Lots of Boomers talking about how they graduated from high school, got a job and their union card on the following day and purchased a car. Is there any other country or time when a factory worker (or a coal-miner) has been considered Middle Class? In the UK, the coal miners and factory workers considered themselves working class and were largely opposed to Margaret Thatcher in the UK.
So Hivemind, what characteristics make someone middle-class or not? Is it income? occupation? geography? education-level? hobbies and interests? all of the above?
I grew up Jewish in suburban New York. I don’t really relate or listen to country music. So by the Loomis description, I am not part of the white middle class. Yet others would argue that Jewish-Americans like other Southern and Eastern European ethnics were folded into the white majority in the 1960s. The classic frustrated joke Republicans used to tell about Jews was that Jews “earned like Episcopalians but voted like Puerto Ricans.” I suppose being from the New York would be seen as a dock against being American middle class because New York seems to be in a category unto itself in American socio-cultural politics.