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Translating class

I was reminded of how I have not been in America for a while when I stumbled on the introduction to a US senator's press release, about how educational reform is intended to "protect the middle class".

There's a phrase which would alienate an enormous swathe of class-conscious Britain. It left open the question of who could possibly be excluded if public education is for the "middle class". It took family members to translate for me.

The "middle class" is the 99%. The only people who aren't middle class, in current American political rhetoric at least, are the richest 1% of the population. Under the circumstances, it seems odd that there's still reason to use the word "class" with regards to distributions of Americans.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 16th, 2011 06:34 pm (UTC)
Actually, there's a good reason for this - it's not only political rhetoric that positions almost everyone in the middle class, but Americans themselves who almost uniformly identify as some part of the middle class. "Protecting the middle class" is the perfect American political lie, since everyone will assume it applies to them.
Oct. 16th, 2011 07:57 pm (UTC)
I've always known that most people in America think of themselves as middle class. But that's different from the realization that perhaps *everyone* does.
Oct. 16th, 2011 06:43 pm (UTC)
Here are some good graphs showing just where the line might be drawn between the percentile that makes 'middle class' income and the percentile that makes more. Iirc, the line is really somewhere lower than the top 1% percentile, but still the picture is very very out of proportion.

Oct. 16th, 2011 07:07 pm (UTC)
That's interesting, and does explan what I thought was a rather outrageous statement from an American recently; if he was counting everyone as middle-class except the top 1%, it wasn't outrageous after all.
Although I'm not sure how you can have a middle class if you don't have something below that...
Oct. 16th, 2011 07:38 pm (UTC)
andrewducker recently linked to this piece. It wasn't until I got a fair way into it that (and this is a slightly spoiler, sorry) I realised that my definition of 'middle class' had no relation to that of the US author.

(I would add to your definition that (for many Americans), as well as the 1%, there is also (let us say) the -5%, who are non-working-class.)

Edited at 2011-10-16 07:38 pm (UTC)
Oct. 16th, 2011 08:02 pm (UTC)
I've had Americans assure me that middle class means basically "has a job", but I'm not sure I really believe it. I think the political discussion is dominated by an articulate and relatively well-off minority who

~think of themselves as "just ordinary working stiffs",
~think of themselves as the majority,
~think of the service class who clean their houses etc. as a minority (in the teeth of the logical arithmetic),
~think of those significantly richer than themselves as a tiny freakish minority (not so far off)
~think of those significantly poor as a tiny freakish minority (not accurate at all)
~would be shocked to learn the actual median and lower quartile household incomes in their country.

Which, all in all, is not that far off the unconscious self-image of middle-class people in this country, either :-) I'd like the class fairy to visit everybody's copy of Nevil Shute's _Slide Rule_ so that next time they re-read it, they notice how much Shute's complaint of "the British people have become so poor that servants are too expensive for them now" depends on the servants who became too expensive not really counting as "the British people".
Oct. 16th, 2011 10:54 pm (UTC)
Is this because no-one in America is working class?
Oct. 17th, 2011 08:20 am (UTC)
Does the phrase "underclass" have any currency there, I wonder? I find it hard to believe that the kind of people Barbara Ehrenreich talks about in Nickel and Dimed consider themselves middle class, employed though they be. But maybe I just can't hear the phrase the way an American would.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )