Thursday, March 5, 2009

More on Class and Race and What is the Middle Class?

It doesn't take much mental work to recognize we are all impacted by both class and race. I enjoy digging into this topic - because we struggle in our lives to make sense of class and race. In fact, class is often as difficult to discuss as race. How many times have you heard someone claim a middle class identity with earnings that far exceed the middle class? The middle class is somewhat ambiguous - and there isn't a clear agreement on income levels. I've got some Census numbers from 2006 that give an idea of middle class in real numbers: Median income among all U.S. households in 2006 was $48,201. The middle 20 percent ranged from about $38,000 to $60,000; and the middle 60 percent—the "Baucus middle class" named after a Senator which measures the middle and eliminates the bottom 20% and the top 20%—stretched from about $20,000 to $97,000.

In a very good piece in the Huffington Post, Abby Ferber discusses class and race and their intersection. She criticizes calling Michelle Obama a middle class woman (even if she does wear JCrew - check out the outfit prices in her article). On the topic of race and class Ferber states, "Even in the face of legal and political gains, there is no evidence to suggest that the racial economic divide is decreasing. And the reality is that during economic downturns, minority communities suffer first and worst. Economic gains made by people of color are generally only very recent gains, and thus most tenuous and vulnerable. They are much less likely to have inherited wealth from previous generations to soften the blow during a crisis." She points to the following statistics to undersocer her arguement:
·The racial gap in median family incomes gap narrowed only slightly over the past 50 years ·Black households are twice as likely as whites to have a negative net worth or none at all
·Less than 10% of whites but almost ¼ of all Black and Latino households live in poverty
·The unemployment rate for blacks remains twice that of whites, unchanged since the early 1970s
·From 1970 to 2007 the gap between home ownership rates for whites and blacks actually grew, and is now being compounded by the current foreclosure crisis.
You want more? Take a look at these charts to hammer down our troubling economic disparities.
Don't get me started on the Wage Gap. I'm tempted, but I'll hold off today in favor of ....reading my book.


clare said...

White privilege means that even a very poor white person has some chance of actually "passing" and not being subjected to daily harassments such as being followed in a store (though not a given). But despite the statistical fact of there being many MORE people of color in poverty, I'd say the pain of poverty is universal and transcends race in some ways. At least from my experience in teaching, white and black middle-class kids will connect much more easily than an upper and lower-class person of any racial combo. Does this make sense? Does it matter? I'm not even sure where I'm going with it...probably to bed if I'm smart! G'night!

M and M said...

Clare, it makes sense and it matters. I'd say, however, class does not trump race - if we choose to measure it that way. And, we don't have to decide on a pyramid scheme at all. Cross culturally, it is really interesting to think about the pain of poverty - particularly in places where oppression isn't based on skin color (I'm thinking of India, for example). I think that would give your notion of the pain of poverty more power, in my opinion. On top of that, when we look at global weath and global poverty we know that statistically the very poor here are not as poor as the poorest people in Bangladesh, for example. So it gets tricky. Thanks for raising such good questions and points. (That's why I love ya!)