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Social Class,Inequality, & PovertyPeter Kaufman, State University of New York at New PaltzTodd Schoepflin, Niagara University
Social Class, Inequality, & PovertyPage2Social Class, Inequality, &PovertyP E T E R K A U F M A N , S T A T E U N I V E R S I T Y O F N E W Y O R K A T N E WP A L T ZT O D D S C H O E P F L I N , N I A G A R A U N I V E R S I T YSOCIAL CLASSThe social class structure of the United StatesIs social class ascribed or achieved?Social mobilityINEQUALITYThe growing gap between the poor and the richUnited States inequality in global contextPOVERTYWhat is poverty?Characteristics of the poorThe working poor and the jobless poorHomelessnessThe importance of affordable housing
Social Class, Inequality, & PovertyINTRODUCTIONWhy do sociologists study social class inequality?I was raised in a poor household. My mom is a Hispanic single mother on welfare who lacksformal education. My father was an Italian immigrant who died of alcoholism. I grew up withmy mom’s side of the family. Among most of my family tobacco and alcohol use wereprominent. Marijuana and cocaine were also used frequently. The most successful thing Iever witnessed anyone in my family do was join the army or graduate high school. Workingwas hardly the trend in my family. My diet consisted of mostly unhealthy foods: fried meats,sauces loaded with salt, pork fat, greasy snacks, lots of soda, and microwaveable food items.If I saw anything green on my plate I thought, “eww disgusting” and I wouldn’t touch it. Notsurprisingly, I was overweight for much of my childhood and adolescence. And with all of thesecond-hand smoke I breathed in I also developed asthma.When I was 18, my mother kicked me out of the house and I moved in with the family of arich, white, friend of mine. This family had a different position in life on so many levels. Theyhad different interests, concerns, and ways of doing things. It all seemed so foreign to me.For example, they were very health conscious. They had foods and products in their homethat I had never seen or heard of before. The parents even took time to exercise daily. Andthey had lots of books in the home which they actually read. Although the way they livedseemed strange to me I also knew that the lifestyle of this family allowed them to have manymore possibilities than I could ever imagine in my upbringing.This excerpt comes from an essay written by Alejandro (Alex) Russo, a student in one of oursociology classes.1This brief autobiographical sketch captures many of the themes that we discuss in thischapter. It also offers a snapshot of how social class has a significant impact on our lives. As Alex suggests,social class influences our goals and aspirations, our potential and possibilities, our lifestyle choices andhabits, and even our health and well-being.Despite its significance, social class often goes unacknowledged. We often don’t recognize theeffect of social class until we interact with people who have different economic resourcesmuch like Alexdidn’t recognize the influence social class had on his life until he moved in with his wealthy friend. In thisway, we may say that social class isinvisible in plain sight. Unlike characteristics such as race and gender,which are more obvious and easier to see and define, we cant always figure outsomeone’ssocial class justby looking at them. But if we are seeing the world sociologically, indicators of social class quickly comeinto focus.
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Social Class, Inequality, & Poverty

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