It’s a cliche by now to say that Americans don’t discuss or really understand class. It’s more accurate, though, to say that those Americans who profess to have some understanding of American society and economics don’t understand class. It’s a cliche, but it’s still true: class is almost invisible here in the United States, at least in official discourse.
Of course, if you are one of the many getting poorer– or the millions without insurance or unemployed– you know class all too well. Class, as Marx famously said, is always a class struggle for working people, a kind of ongoing, constant battle to keep yourself afloat. Lots of people in the U.S. seemed to believe that by creating a large, affluent middle class we ended this struggle for good.
We haven’t, of course, and we are paying a high price for our complacency. We’ve reached a point, in fact, where the only way we can get the most basic kinds of social support– unemployment insurance, even a temporary raise in our wages– is by paying off the rich. We get a tiny 2% break in taxes and another year of unemployment insurance. The rich get billions.
So the Chronicle of Higher Education’s statistical portrait of the undergraduate population ought to be much less of a surprise. As it turns out, just as wages have declined, and the costs of college have been increasingly shifted to the individual, fewer and fewer students “live on leafy campuses and party hard—many others are commuters, full-time workers, and parents.”