bad-economy

A small but surging share of Americans consider themselves ‘lower class,’ a surprise to some researchers and activists despite the bruising economy.

By Emily Alpert
September 15, 2013, 6:38 p.m.

Chris Roquemore once thought of himself as working class. But it’s hard to keep thinking that, he said, when you’re not working.

The 28-year-old father said he sparred with his supervisors at a retail chain about taking time off after his mother died — and ended up unemployed. Since then, Roquemore has worked odd jobs and started studying nursing at Long Beach City College, trying to get “a career, not a job.” All those changes, in turn, changed the way he thought of himself.

Roquemore is among the small but surging share of Americans who identify themselves as “lower class.” Last year, a record 8.4% of Americans put themselves in that category — more than at any other time in the four decades that the question has been asked on the General Social Survey, a project of the independent research organization Norc at the University of Chicago.

The rising numbers surprised some researchers and activists even in light of the bruising economy. For decades, the vast majority of Americans have seen themselves as “middle class” or “working class.” Even during earlier downturns, so few people called themselves lower class that scholars routinely lumped them with working class. Activists for the poor often avoid the term, deeming it an insult.

When people call themselves lower class, “we’ll say, ‘You’re not lower than someone else. You just have less money,'” said Michaelann Bewsee, co-founder of Arise for Social Justice, a Massachusetts low-income rights group. But many don’t consider it insulting today, Bewsee said.

“They’re just reflecting their economic reality,” she said.

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