Social Class & Poverty in the US: Crash Course Sociology #24

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Social Class in America can be hard
to talk about. And not just because you may find it
awkward to discuss who’s poor and who’s rich,
or who has more power and who has less. As sociologists, the difficulty for us is in pinning
down exactly what we mean by social class. There isn’t just one definition of it, and
the definition you use will depend on what
society you’re interested in. If we go by Marx’s definition, we have two classes:
the bourgeoisie, who own the means of production,
and the proletariat, who do the labor. But this might be too simplistic for our world. If you own a small store, and you work there,
which category do you belong in? Your day-to-day life probably looks more like
that of a retail employee than that of a CEO. But Marx would put you in the bourgeoisie,
because you own a business and hire workers. So let’s try another definition, one that’s more
in the tradition of our old friend Max Weber. His theories were more about what kinds of
opportunities a person’s class gives them. The owner of a big company has different opportunities
than the owner of a small shop. But they’ll both have different resources available
to them than someone who manages an office,
or somebody who works at a factory. So in this case, a social class can be defined
as a group that’s fairly similar in terms of income,
education, power, and prestige in society. And we can use this definition to better
understand the social classes that make
up society in the United States, and it can help us to answer some of the
questions they raise. Like, is there more than one kind of upper
class? How can the middle class fit everyone who
thinks they belong in it? And what does poverty in America really
look like? [Theme Music] Broadly speaking, American society can be
split into five social classes: upper class, upper middle class, average
middle class, working class, and lower class The upper class consists essentially of the
capitalists in Marx’s system. This is the top of the income and wealth
distribution – those who earn at least $250,000/year
and control much of the country’s wealth. And as we learned last week – money talks. This group tends to wield a lot of political
and social power. But within the upper class, there are sub
classes that distinguish, by and large, between
old money and new money. The upper-upper class includes those who derive
their wealth from inheritance rather than work. People in this class may have jobs, but usually
they take on more honorary positions such as board
members or heading up philanthropic organizations. But there’s also a large part of the upper
class whose wealth came from work. Most of those we think of as wealthy – the
Bill Gates, Oprah Winfreys, and Kanye West’s
of the world – fall into this group. After upper class comes the middle class. Remember awhile back when we talked
about how almost every American thinks that
they’re middle class? That’s way too many people to fit into the middle,
which is why sociologists split the mid-range of
the income distribution into three groups. Upper middle class families typically have
incomes between $115,000 and $250,000 per year
and make up about 15% of income earners. About 2/3 of the adults here have college
degrees – and many have post-graduate degrees. It’s almost a given that their kids will
attend college when they grow up. Adults in this sector tend to have jobs that
are considered prestigious – doctors, lawyers,
engineers, and the like. Their families typically own homes in good
school districts, and are able to afford luxuries,
like travel and multiple vehicles. And it may not surprise you to learn that they’re
wealthy, at least compared to most Americans. This group is likely to have wealth from their
home, strong 401Ks, and financial investments. Now, families in the so-called average middle
class make between $50,000 and $115,000 and
make up about 35% of income earners. Keep in mind, the median family income in
the US is $70,700. So families in this group still tend to own their own
homes, but the mortgages might be more cumbersome. And they have some wealth, usually tied up in their
home or a modest retirement savings account. About half of this group is college-educated,
though they’re more likely to have attended
public universities than private schools. And average middle class jobs are typically
so-called white collar jobs – think office workers,
teachers, middle-managers. In contrast, most blue-collar workers, or
those whose work is primarily based in manual
labor, fall into the lower-middle class. About 30 percent of Americans are in this
category, with incomes ranging from about
25 to 50 thousand dollars a year. Lower middle class families are less likely
to own their own homes and typically hold
little to no wealth. The most defining feature of this social class
is the type of jobs that are associated with it – namely, manual labor, which is why it’s
often referred to as the working class. Factory work, construction, manufacturing,
maintenance work – all of these jobs generally
fall under working class occupations. And while some working class jobs require
technical skills, they don’t usually require a
college education. It’s important to note that working class jobs are
more sensitive to how the economy is doing, because
these jobs tend to be built around making stuff. When a recession hits, factories need fewer
workers to meet demands. Or the plant’s owners might decide that
it’s cheaper to use machines rather than
workers to produce their goods. And just as vulnerable to economic downturns,
if not more so, is the lower class. Lower class Americans are blue-collar workers
at the bottom of the income distribution. They make less than $25,000 a year and tend to work hourly jobs that are part-time, with unpredictable schedules and no benefits, like health insurance or pensions. About 20% of Americans, or the bottom quintile,
fall into this group. The majority of these families don’t own
their own homes and are more likely to live in
neighborhoods with higher rates of poverty, lower quality school districts,
and higher crime rates. In contrast to an upper-middle class family,
whose children are likely to go to college, only 9% of children born in the bottom income
quartile complete a four-year college degree. And the lower class also includes many
Americans who are living in poverty. The US government sets an income
benchmark called the federal poverty level, a threshold that’s used, in part, to determine
who’s eligible for public assistance programs,
like food stamps or help with health care. As of 2017, the federal poverty level for
a family of four is $24,600. And 13.5% of Americans live in households
below that. The government arrives at this figure by estimating
the minimum annual pre-tax income that’s needed to
pay food, shelter, transportation, and clothing costs
for a given household size. Of course, what’s poor in the United States
won’t be the same as in another country – the US federal poverty line is a measure
of relative poverty, based on a standard of
living in the US. Relative poverty is used to describe a lack
of resources compared to others who have more. But absolute poverty is a lack of resources
that threatens your ability to survive. The federal poverty level gives us an indicator
for which Americans have the fewest resources
and lets us examine trends in groups that are the
most economically vulnerable. For example, groups that can’t work, like
children, the severely disabled, and the frail elderly,
are particularly vulnerable to poverty. But many working Americans are vulnerable to
poverty, too – 12% of working-age adults in poverty
work full-time, and another 29% work part time. These are the working poor. You can see how it’s quite possible to work full
time and still live in poverty, when you do the math. The federal minimum wage in
the United States is $7.25 per hour. A 40 hour work week for 50 weeks a year
would net an income of $14,500, which is well
below the poverty line for a family of four. It’s hard enough to pull yourself out of poverty on a
low-wage income, which is partly why more than half
of families in poverty are headed by single mothers. Higher rates of poverty among women,
known as the feminization of poverty, is related to the increasing number of
women who are raising children on their
own, and who work low-wage jobs. But in addition to gender, you can also can
look at poverty by race. Contrary to popular belief, most poor
Americans are not Black; in fact, two-thirds
of the poor in the US are white. Black Americans are, however, more likely
to be poor than white Americans: 24.1% of Black Americans, who make up
about 13% of the total American population,
were living in poverty in 2015. Compare that to 11.6% of white Americans,
who make up about 77% of the total population. Now, the causes of poverty are many. And it’s not easy to understand why some
groups are more vulnerable than others. America likes to think of itself as a nation that
values self-reliance, where anyone can succeed. And this view is partly why some argue that
poverty is the result of an individual’s own
failings, or of certain cultural attitudes. One of the most famous proponents of this
idea was Daniel Patrick Moynihan – former US senator, ambassador to the
United Nations, and, by trade, a sociologist. A report he wrote while Secretary of Labor
in the Kennedy administration, known as the
Moynihan report, blamed high rates of poverty among African
Americans not on a lack of economic opportunity, but on cultural factors in the Black community,
like high rates of birth outside of marriage. By contrast, American sociologist William Julius
Wilson – who you might remember from episode 7 –
has provided a counter to this idea. Wilson has documented how Black Americans
are much more likely to face institutional barriers to achieving economic success, and are more likely to live in areas where
jobs are scarce. He argues that in order to understand poverty, we
have to look at wider economic and social structures,
as well as the history and culture of racism in the U.S. Next week, we’ll talk more about how social class
structures affects how Americans live their lives. But for now, you learned about the five
different social classes in the United States: the upper class, the upper middle class,
the average middle class, the working class,
and the lower class. And we discussed what poverty looks
like in the United States. Crash Course Sociology is filmed in the Dr.
Cheryl C. Kinney Studio in Missoula, MT, and it’s
made with the help of all these nice people. Our Animation Team is Thought Cafe and Crash
Course is made with Adobe Creative Cloud. If you’d like to keep Crash Course free for
everyone, forever, you can support the series
at Patreon, a crowdfunding platform that allows
you to support the content you love. Speaking of Patreon, we’d like to thank all of our
patrons in general, and we’d like to specifically thank
our Headmaster of Learning Ben Holden-Crowther. Thank you so much for your support.

100 COMMENTS

  1. It's so interesting how social classes differ between countries! I'm from the Netherlands, where you would consider a 50,000 income upper middle class, and probably all of their kids will attend good colleges (since education is affordable here).

    Go sociologists!

  2. why bring up gender and poverty, but not talk about how the VAST majority of homeless are men? this is too BIG of a statistic to not mention, ESPECIALLY in regards to gender.

  3. This is a completely apolitical video, and yet 1 in 5 dislikes it. I'm guessing all the "bootstrap" Americans see even TALKING about poverty as a liberal conspiracy.

  4. If you own a small business and work there yourself along with a couple of employees, Marx wouldn't put you in the bourgeoisie. You would be petite bourgeois, a class which depending on circumstances can be hindered by capitalism and be an ally to the proletariat or at least not the enemy. Plus, Marxist sociologists have developed class systems more adapted to today's world, see Erik Olin Wright for example.

  5. I'm a bit disappointed that skilled trades were left out. They are good jobs, with good income. I think it is important not to exclude these jobs, because they can be higher paying and more stable than many white collar jobs.

  6. I've lived in most of these sections. When I was very small, my grandfather died and left my parents money and we lived like upper middle class, but after a few years, the money was gone and we were middle class. Then the economy tanked and we ended up working class. Then my mom decided she didn't want to deal with a disabled kid and kicked me out. I was homeless for a year. I'm finally out of homelessness but still living off of less than half the poverty level, which I guess is lower class. Don't think I'm gonna make it to upper class though at this rate.

  7. Skilled trades that were mentioned in the video as "lower middle class" make considerably more than 50K a year. Plumbers, welders, electricians, and carpenters are making excellent wages more in the 75-100K range annually.

  8. You're mistaken on your definition of class by Marx (0:20). He does not says that there is only two classes, but that these two classes (the bourgeoisie and the proletariat) will constitute the primary source of antagonism within the capitalist system.
    The example you give in 0:29 is akin to marxist definition of "petty bourgeoisie", a class that extracts profit from it's own work, along with their employees; in opposition to the bourgeoisie, that, for instance, extracts wealth and profit only from wage labour. There's also the "peasantry" (which is self-sufficient and does not produces profit), the lumpenproletariat (who's at the margin of society), the colonial aristocracy (which is subservient to another nation's bourgeoisie)… It would be only a minor nitpick if your whole point on bring up Weber weren't as if he "surpassed" or "solved" Marx's alleged anachronism; so this argument is misguided and ironically oversimplistic.

  9. The best definition of class is defined in relation to people's debt status.

    If you have to work not only to fund your own consumption, but to borrow (at interest or rent) the capital needed to live and work in the first place, you are lower class.
    If you have to work to fund your own consumption, but you don't have to borrow to be able to do so because you own capital enough for your use, then you are middle class.
    If you don't even have to work to fund your own consumption, because you own so much capital you can rent it out or lend it at interest for profit, then you are upper class.

    By this definition, almost everyone is lower class, because almost nobody owns even the home they live in outright. Anyone renting or mortgaging is lower class. And by the time you're rich enough to reach middle class, upper class is a hop skip and a jump away, so there's hardly any middle class either. Our economic system pushes people out of the middle class, pulling the people below it down and pushing the people above it up, with a force proportional to their distance from it. Rent and interest are what drive that force.

  10. @3:17 "Keep in mind the median family income is $70,700."

    I think this should have been "Average" family income, not "Median"? It just caught my ear because I had looked into it a few years ago and the Median income then was around $50,000. Doing a quick search, it happens that the US Census Bureau put out an update for 2016 a day after this video released stating that the Median household income was $59,039. Link below.

    https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2017/income-povery.html

  11. Hello, I am impressed with the variety of topics and the information covered by "CrashCourse". Do you have any plans to do some thing similar for other countries too? Places like India things are so complex and there are very few sources that provide such objective reasoning and analysis.

  12. Marx would put a small business owner in the working class. Being a capitalist (bourgeoisie) means you own enough capital that you don't have to work for a living. Doctors, lawyers, and store owner who have to work are in the working class.

  13. It would be academically interesting to compare distributions of poverty between America and other countries where poverty is distributed very differently. Often it's more to do with which region of a country you're raised in, or quality of welfare payments under the current government, than race or gender.

  14. i like the video very well done and researched
    however i agreed u with on the five different social classes and how there are set i disagree on the part u said that blue collar workers dont make more than $50,000 per year. thats a lie my older works for the city of nyc and yes at first he making little less than 50k a year but after 7 to 10 years and a building management degree his job for the past 10 year have been giving him 100k + per year. so not all blue collar jobs are lower class just like not all white collar job are upper middle there are people in those types of job make only 30k an year! it depends on company u work for or if worked for federal, state or city ur going make atleast 32k 1st year and then get an slight increase every few years.

  15. The Communist Manifesto actually mentions the petty Bourgeoisie, which includes shop owners and small business owners. It says that this class will eventually be hollowed out as inequality increases.

  16. Before this starts: My hope is that it does not appeal to the left or right. I want them to go abut it by stating facts, and ignoring politics.

  17. I think the concept is fascinating, but here is a paradox. What about people who can have higher amounts of money but do not normally like to be in "typical" white collar work but would rather do "typical" blue collar work because I know plenty of educated men who prefer to be "active" with their work rather than sit behind an office desk all day.

    They mention to me that they're bored out of their minds at work in a "higher income" job. It's also a fact that most of the USA is below the middle class, it's been called "The Working Poor". Recent times, and situations have exposed this and plenty of the masses are angry that they are in fact lower in social class then they assumed or preferred.

  18. The problem with capitalism is that it will inevitably result in increasing poverty. Implementing socialist policies like social security, public schools, minimum wage, etc will only limit or reduce the poverty but not deal with the underlying issue.
    Communism is the future

  19. Kind of buried the sizes of the social classes there. In the infographic, each class was a horizontal strip of equal size and only the last one is really described by terms of percentage of population. "About 20% of the population" which implies that the exactly one-fifth ratio of each class is representative of their population, but that's extremely misleading. The upper class is way way smaller than the 20% of the population the inforgraphic suggests, while the "working class" or "lower-middle class" is far larger than just a fifth of the population. This all misleads people badly in their understanding of the scale of the inequality in the US.

  20. The black sociologist said blacks' economic failings were because of a lack of opportunity, while the white sociologist blamed black culture. Imagine that.

  21. Thank you for sharing your talent. God bless you. This week I've been analyzing my neighborhood social structure that's how I stumbled across your videos.

  22. I guess musicians count as working class, then. We are manual laborers, after all, and many of us live off of less than $50,000/year. However, the majority have college and advanced graduate degrees.

  23. Backpfeifengesicht is a German word that means "a face begging to be slapped".

    Daniel Patrick Moyhihan has a Backpfeifengesicht face. Just look at it.

  24. Somehow she did not mention a class of people who:
    Do not work,
    wouldn't work unless forced to,
    use all imaginable ways to cheat existing welfare programs to live off other people's taxes,
    and always moan how life is difficult and unfair to them.

  25. why are the schools bad, why are there no jobs available, why are they not finishing high school or college? Maybe it has something to do with the students behavior and the high rates of crime? it's astounding the lengths this nonsense goes to to excuse people from personal responsibility of their own lives based on skin color of all things. The chinese and indians lived in the gheto they faced racism and discrimination and yet in like 3 generations asian americans have the most wealth per capita in the US race is no excuse for failure.

  26. I feel our capitalist economic system encourages a social class hierarchy… The corporate capitalist is a bully that keeps us all down!!

  27. so according to your chart I am in the lower class. But my cost of living is low. No part of me feels like I am lower class. I still get a little help from my parents. I feel like most people in there 20's are in this category. Can't we distinguish the difference between a low income young adult vs. a low income family? I guess I shouldn't be offended by this, since I feel like they are counting the income as an income over a family of 3 to 4 people.

  28. Nothing against this series, because it's been incredibly informative, but classifying a family that makes $25k a year as "lower middle class" is a misnomer. Being half a step away from homelessness doesn't make you "middle class".

  29. I don't understand, you could just get a job that pays more if you want more money. That's how it is. Unless you live in a 3rd world country or your an illegal immigrant. Besides your not supposed to care what people think.

  30. Where I live (Georgia USA not the country) social class really does matter I’m Upper middle class and I do get a lot of attention being that in the city I live in 1 in every 4 people are in poverty

  31. As someone who grew up solidly in the upper middle class (UMC), I had quite the experience when (through poor life choices) I wound up going to a community college in a lower class/poor area. While I eventually went on to graduate top of my class with my finance degree (thanks to the 'glass floor' the UMC provides), that time in the poor area spawned an intense interest in the difference between class distinctions. Many things I took for granted (a car at 16, college fully paid for, investment vehicles for retirement, family trusts) were wholly unfathomable to a group of people I didn't know existed.

    From my own personal experience, groups are also very insulated against each other. I live in a town once rated 'The Best Town in America' by Money magazine (I know, right?). Ten minutes away is the town often rated as the Worst in America. Yet our streets are brimming with a suburban bucolic feel and our crime blotter is blank. Fascinating.

  32. You can have money and still lack or miss opportunities you otherwise are entitled to, for a vaerity of cultural & social reasons.
    Living near NYC around mostly: blacks, latinos, and european jews. It is clear that if you are black, society already has a negative idea of you, especially if you look like a hip hop artist. Furthermore, there are many race groups, and well, some race groups are more comfortable than others. Life is easier if you are white in the US, because it is easier to integrate with, well, the particular group of people that enslaved and took the land and resources from the grandparents of other groups, and so they generally have more resources at their disposal.

    If you take other peoples land today, then make and enforce a rule that says you cannot take anyones land, and called it a civil society, well now, your children are way more likely to end up on those top two tiers. The ones who had their land taken on the other hand, you are likely find their decendant in the bottom 2 tiers.

    Poor peole are just poor, because they just are, they don't try hard enough, or are they the decendants of victims of wars, slaverly & colonialism?

  33. Came to watch this video for information specifically on the title of this video. Now I want to know information on all those collectibles that ar the background of this video.

  34. This is a great unbiased view in general but I still have problem with the fact the upper class over 250k is split only in 2. This is a prob in the UK as well those who earn a few 100k are lumped in with those who earn a few 100m. There is actually a greater difference in these levels then there are of those who earn say 15-30k. Especially if it is a single earner receiving top level tax and no allowances, not even the basic 11k tax free

  35. When WW3 strikes all the money and social classes won't work. Give your life to Jesus before its too late and join the Heavenly class.

  36. I must have missed it, but is this talking about household income or individuals? Because if it’s the former, I find looking only at income is not the best way to assess social class. The video uses “person” as an individual and “families” interchangeably which makes some things unclear.

  37. That is a common mistake when dealing with Marxist theory. Marx wouldn't call the owner of a small business a bourgeois, because he doesn't own the means of production. The owner of a small store is still subjected to the class that owns the means required to produce the cotton, the clothes and so on.
    Buying a cupcake truck and hiring two employees doesn't make you a capitalist. That's what the whole speech about the "entrepreneur" got wrong…

  38. Median household income is around 57k; is that different than, as you stated, median "family" income (which you said was 70k?)?

  39. Hey Crashcourse! Absolutely love your videos! They're amazing! I was looking for a video on Universal Basic Income (UBI) and couldn't find any in your resources. Any chance we'll get one?

  40. Why is it there everywhere I go I get different numbers for this stuff.. it does not seem to bed standardized

  41. Huh im in the working/lower class my dad is disabled and mom works a stressful job and we live in a household of 7 (used to be 9) fortunately though i'm 1st generation student

  42. huh…. I make more money as an electrician than any white collar person I know. This is the problem. People treat me like I don't belong in my area, even better, follow me around the store like I'm going to steal. LOL The predetermined bias of social class to define your place is the bigger issue.

  43. I dunno … I do appreciate the framework presented here (it's a different way of looking at it, which is nice), but I've always subscribed to the binary method of telling if you're working class – could you pay for your lifestyle choices on just capital gains (growth and return on investments you hold), without any actual work income. If so, then you're not working class (i.e. you don't have to work to maintain your chosen lifestyle).

    The differentiation between the "Old Money" and "New Money" dichotomy of the capitalist class around 2:20, in this video, is that "old money" is inherited wealth and capital gains on that wealth, while "New Money" is … some small % of salary, but mainly people who own stock in their own brands/companies and generate income from the capital gains on owning stock in their own publicly traded companies (Gates, Oprah, Kanye, yada yada yada). But that's just splitting hairs – they're all capitalists (aka non-working class), but some of them inherited their wealth, while others just extracted the surplus wealth from people working under them).

  44. Islam promotes welfare distribution
    Quran (Koran) Surah Al-Hashr, Verse 7:
    ِ كَيْ لَا يَكُونَ دُولَةً بَيْنَ الْأَغْنِيَاءِ مِنكُمْ
    , so that it may not be a thing taken by turns among the rich of you,

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