The next rung on the ladder is the middle class, which includes about 34 percent of the population. The members of the middle class earn their money by working at what could be called professional jobs. They probably have college educations, or at least have attended college. These people are managers, doctors, lawyers, professors, and teachers. They rarely wear uniforms, although some might wear distinctive clothing, such as a physician’s white coat. They are often referred to as the white-collar class, referring to the tendency of many middle-class men to wear suits with a white shirt to work.
The working class makes up about 30 percent of the population. Its members may have gone to college, but more have had vocational or technical training. The members of the working class have a variety of jobs, including the following:
This category is also called the blue-collar class in recognition of the likelihood that many of these individuals wear uniforms to work rather than suits. People in the working class are more likely to be members of unions than are people in the middle class. While there are differences between the working class and the middle class in terms of their values, behaviors, and even their voting records, their standards of living are often similar, but not identical.
Another new rung on the socioeconomic ladder is the working poor. Estimating how many Americans are in this category is difficult because the line separating them from those who are at or below the poverty level (see next section) is not solid. Estimates say that approximately 20 percent of the population could be classified in either the working-poor or poverty-level categories.
People in the working-poor category have a low educational level, are not highly skilled, and work at minimum-wage jobs. They often work two or more part-time jobs and receive no health insurance or other benefits. These individuals are vulnerable to falling below the poverty line. They have very little or no job security, and their jobs are easily outsourced to countries where labor is cheaper.
Every economy needs a group of workers that it can hire during an economic upswing and lay off when the economy weakens. The members of the working poor are such people; they are the “last hired, first fired.”