As much as Americans hate being pigeon-holed into a caste system, most of us know that America is not a classless society. It’s taboo to publicly speak of people in terms of class, but silently we judge others, placing them on a hierarchical scale compared to our own rank in the American caste system. No one is safe from these judgements and we know this, which is why we are always trying, consciously or unconsciously, to measure up.
While many of us dream of moving up economically, most Americans are content to be “middle class,” a generic, broadly defined, and always shifting category that supposedly describes the average American living the typical American life. If one must be assigned a rank in the American caste system, the “middle class” seems a safe place to be. It’s not too high or too low and politicians build entire campaigns on the issues they believe are most important to the middle class.
If you would like to read a humorous, yet pointed view of the American caste system, Paul Fussell tackles the issue head-on in his book, Class: A Guide Through the American Status System. He accounts for multiple variables including where you live and the type of home(s) in which you reside; physical attractiveness; education; manner of speaking (good enunciation and grammar, as well as the ideas you discuss); whether you read and what you read if you do; what and when you eat; purchasing and consumption habits; and your source(s) of income.
However, if you simply want a popular description of the American “middle class,” MSN Money offers a more recent description in their article, 9 ways to know if you’re middle class. As they define it, you are middle class if you: have an income of $40,000 – $100,000 per year; shop at Target; save for your children’s college expenses and retirement; take domestic vacations; own your home; have a secure job and health insurance; and generally lean Democratic.
Our family resides in the middle of this chaotic, ill-defined system–a typical family of four, neither affluent nor destitute, with a home, couple of cars, and two young children. We live in an older neighborhood surrounded by a large, affluent suburban housing development, and we share many of the same concerns that other middle class families have–maintaining a good job/income, saving for retirement, sending our children to college/university, and planning our next vacation. Middle class or not, I like to think our experience is unique to us. This is our life.