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1/Who is actually working class?

Here is a thread on that question.

First, two disclaimers...
2/Disclaimer #1: "Working class" shouldn't be thought of as a hard and fast classification. Most people won't fit into idealized descriptions of classes, so that you can't point to someone and say definitively what class they're in.
3/Disclaimer #2: A lot of people have the idea that working class people are more virtuous, more worthy of respect, or more worthy of wielding political power. I don't think this way.

So if I say someone "isn't working class", it's not meant as any kind of insult.
4/OK, so on to the question of "Who is working class?"

One obvious way of defining it is the type of work you do - if you do jobs that involve a lot of physical labor, you're working class, etc. Basically "blue collar" = "working class".
5/Equating working class with manual work might have made sense in Marx's day, but I don't think it does now.

As manufacturing becomes increasingly automated or outsourced, and the human-interaction economy expands, the % of workers doing mainly physical labor is shrinking...
6/And I have a hard time looking at a salesperson at a clothing store or a customer service rep or a telemarketer and saying "That's not working class".
7/So what about income? Should we equate "working class" with "lower middle class"?

Well, there are several problems with that. First of all, there's wealth. If your family is rich and you're working at a low-wage job, I struggle to call you "working class".
8/Second, there's what economists call "permanent income" - the fact that some people are almost certainly going to earn a lot more in the future than they do now.

If you're a Harvard student working part-time at a library, I struggle to call you "working class".
9/So in some sense I have the idea that to be "working class", you should:
A) depend on work for your sustenance, and
B) not be on track to make a lot more money than you do now.
10/OK, so now we come to the hard question - what about occupational choice?

Suppose you have a Harvard degree, and you decide to go wait tables in New York City for a couple years while you "find yourself" (and party). I still have trouble calling you "working class"...
11/OK, but suppose you never leave that lifestyle. You just keep waiting tables and letting your Harvard degree gather dust in your parents' attic. Twenty years go by, and now you NEED that waiter job.

Are you "working class" now? I'd say yes, I think.
12/But here's the thing - there's never any smooth crossover point where you stop being able to use your Harvard degree to go make a lot of money. You just become a tiny bit *less* able to use it every day that you keep waiting tables.

You enter the working class by inches.
13/Now we get to an even harder case - the case of what I'll call "lottery careers". This category includes things like drug lord, movie star, and Amway millionaire. But increasingly, it also includes academia.
14/With slots for tenured professors shrinking, many aspiring academics are increasingly shunted into eternal postdoc hell, and others find work as low-paid adjuncts and lecturers as they wait for that increasingly unlikely big break.
15/But if you keep chasing that glamorous academic dream, living out of your car and eating cup ramen, while any day you could give up and go become a data scientist for Bank of America or Procter & Gamble...are you "working class"?

Again, I have a hard time saying yes...
16/But as with the waiter with the Harvard degree, a lifelong adjunct slowly loses high-paying options.

In econo-speak, the option value of education declines over time if the option isn't exercised.
17/So to be "working class", I think you should:
A) depend on work for your sustenance, and
B) not be on track to make a lot more money than you do now, and
C) not have the option to go make a lot more money than you do now.
18/Basically, "working class" to me means that you work for money, you don't make a lot of money, you don't have a lot of money, you aren't likely to get a lot of money, and you couldn't go get a lot of money if you wanted.
19/Anyway, remember that this isn't a value judgment. Having a Harvard degree or a PhD does not inherently make you a less valuable, less worthy, or less virtuous member of society, or less worthy of exercising your vote or wielding political influence.
20/In fact, I'm not sure that this sort of class analysis matters for policy at all; maybe we should just look at lifetime consumption and ignore how people get that consumption.
21/But if we're trying to analyze politics based on who has shared economic interests, then maybe the concept of a "working class" does matter.

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