Over the Hill

More than one way to define 'class'

Most of us think of ourselves as members of the middle class, but we may have to think again. California’s middle class is shrinking. I read that in last Friday’s Tribune.

But we may still have hope. The Tribune article only spoke of our “income” middle class. Income is just one part of America’s three-part class structure. The other two parts are social skills and power. How we deal with all three parts determines whether we prompt people to respect us or not.

The Tribune article concentrated on our shrinking income middle class. It said that last year, fewer than half of us Californians made it into the income middle class, just 49.7 percent of us. In 1980, it was 60 percent.

That information came from a think tank called the Public Policy Institute of California. It defined middle class as having a yearly household income of between $44,000 and $155,000. They got $44,000 by multiplying two times the federal poverty guideline, and the got $155,000 by multiplying by about seven.

The article said 36.6 percent of California households made less than $44,000 last year, and 13.7 percent made more than $155,000.

But whether you get rated low class, middle class or upper class also depends on America’s social-class system and power-class system.

Social-class criteria include status, respectability and “keeping up with the Joneses.” I lived 20 years in the Sherwood Acres subdivision in Paso Robles. A woman once told me she wouldn’t have one of those “flat-roofed” Sherwood-Acres houses. To her, they were low class.

The power class has to do with clout. It includes bosses, government officials, landlords and newspaper editors, among others. It’s why we say, “Yes, officer.”

All three class systems are usually intertwined. If I’d been in a higher income class, I might have moved into a different neighborhood and into the social middle class. Sometimes when a businessman gets elected to the city council, he moves into the social upper-middle class and his wife gets invited to join clubs.

I learned that our class system isn’t just about money from reading Paul Fussell’s book, “Class.” He gives many examples such as: “When John Fitzgerald Kennedy, watching Richard Nixon on television, turned to his friends and, horror-struck, said, ‘The guy has no class,’ he was not talking about money.”

In my opinion, having principles and living by them will get you more respect than having money. We’re reminded this time of year that being born in a stable doesn’t necessarily make you low class.