Richard Florida writes: Class has long been a dirty word in America. We’re the society of opportunity after all – the place where anyone from anywhere can aspire to be president or at least get very rich. Innumerable pundits and a litany of books have trumpeted the eclipse of class and the rise of a classless society. It’s an old saw. Way back in the late 1950s, the sociologist Robert Nisbet declared, “the term social class … is nearly valueless for the clarification of data on wealth power and status.”
But numerous indicators and metrics suggest that class does structure a great deal of American life. America lags behind many nations – from Denmark to the United Kingdom and Canada – in the ability of its people to achieve significant upward mobility. America’s jobs crisis bears the unmistakable stamp of class. This past spring, for example, the rate of unemployment for people who did not graduate from high school was 13 percent, substantially more than the overall rate of 8.2 percent and more than three times the 3.9 percent rate for college grads. At a time when the unemployment rate for production workers who contribute their physical labor was more than 10 percent, unemployment for professionals, techies and managers who work with their minds had barely broken 4 percent.
While the political left has long pointed to America’s social and economic divides, a number of influential commentators on the right have only recently been drawn to the issue. “America is being polarized by class divisions that didn’t exist a quarter century ago,” writes Charles Murray in his book “Coming Apart.” “We have developed a new upper class with advanced educations, often obtained at elite schools, sharing tastes and preferences that set them apart from mainstream America. At the same time, we have developed a new lower class, characterized not by poverty but by withdrawal from America’s core cultural institutions.” While many have criticized the cultural and sociological underpinnings and implications of Murray’s argument, there’s no getting around the fact that he accurately identifies class as a, if not the, central axis of contemporary American life.
My own research bears this out. My initial research over a decade ago identified the rise of the creative class as a key factor in America’s cities and economy overall. What has struck me since is that the effects of class are not just limited to cities, jobs and the economy. Class increasingly structures virtually every aspect of our society, culture and daily lives — from our politics and religion to where we live and how we get to work, from the kind of education we can provide for our children to our very health and happiness. [Continue reading...]