In the reading sections provided in the chapter, different individuals and families are not living at the same economic margins. The readings however emphasize that poverty and inequality have remained deeply entrenched. It is clear that the challenge of alleviating poverty in the United States and improving living conditions is both structural and contingent. From the story “Empty Christmas” it is clear that poverty is rooted in the realties of urbanization, slow economic growth and inflation. For example in the article “Empty Christmas” written by Tamicia Rush, the family is living below the poverty line and in anticipation waiting for the mother or father to provide, though they are jobless. The child believed that she was going to get something because she had said that her Christmas was going to be different. The empty space under the tree makes her perceive the emptiness in her heart. Though she receives a pair of boots and gloves, it was not what she had been looking for. However, the presents played an important role (Eitzen & Smith, 2008).
Social and economic stratification and physical segregation are well established leading to spatial and infrastructural hierarchic divisions. The suburban families represented in the readings is said to be oriented towards family life. This implies that many people who thimk of themselves as members of the working class cannot be easily identified with the middle class suburban culture. In Susan Sheehan’s article “Ain’t No Middle Class” presents a family which is struggling to fit in the middle class. Despite the fact that they are working and can afford to purchase old motors, the Mertens feel that they are not members of the middle class anymore. In Tamicia Rush’s article, it is important that the family cannot afford to have a Christmas celebration together because the family does not earn (Eitzen & Smith, 2008). Both parents are facing conflicting demands of work, survival, and parenting. In the second family, the father often has to work at two jobs to make up for low wages and benefits.
The capitalist society in the United States has made life difficulty for individuals who want to rise from one level of living conditions to the other. The American middle class which the story “Ain’t No Middle Class” tries to explore is more a myth than a reality. Between the extremes of poverty and wealth are instead of a unified middle class two increasingly distinct groups that think of themselves as middle class but face far different life chances and economic realities. For example in the story “Ain’t No Middle Class” Bonita and Kenny Merten and their two sons think that they live above the level of poverty, but much below the level of the rich. The article says that in 1994, they earned $31,216.
While life presents many challenges for the families who cannot afford good healthcare, deal with daily stresses of life, Susan Sheehan’s article, therefore, presents challenges and difficulties associated with parenting. The Mertens are better-off as compared to the family described in the article “Empty Christmas” written by Tamicia Rush. While in 1993, the Mertens spent more than they earned, the other family in “Empty Christmas” did not have any money to spend. Kenny acknowledges that he tried to confine his responses to the consumer counselor’s suggestions regarding his spending, but he rarely follows them. As a result, he is discouraged by their living conditions, as indicated by Eitzen & Smith (2008) we both work hard, we are not on welfare and we just cannot seem to do anything that will make a difference in our lives.
Gender, Race, Ethnicity, Age, and Location
The classification of people based gender, race, and ethnicity results to stress which is largely are associated with several types of institutional discriminations such as attending lack of healthcare, food, living in areas of concentrated poverty, and unequal employment opportunities. African Americans have for long experienced the biggest social and economic discrimination. Eitzen & Smith (2008) indicated that discrimination on the basis of gender, race, and ethnicity leads to stigma, which results in a spoiled identity and has negative consequences. Gender, race, and ethnicity discrimination causes various groups in society to be singled out by the majority and be defined as different and abnormal justifying their discrimination against them as inferiors.
The lack of access to healthcare for everybody creates stress on poor families. Some claim that they would like health benefits very but they are not accessible because they cannot afford them. For example one of the victims explains “I was absent two weeks once, because I was having operation on a vein in my leg and that week I did not make any money because I could not work”. It can be noted that when they take leave to have a baby they do not have access to healthcare benefits (Eitzen & Smith, 2008). People have to deal with the stress of lack healthcare. The needed services are simply not available for people who have paid for healthcare. The healthcare site is not usually organized in a user-friendly manner so that stressed individuals can obtain timely and acceptable services. In the story “The Dynamics of Welfare Stigma” several women in the study are concerned with how their children were treated negatively by providers who were not as culturally sensitive and as multilingual as needed in certain location in the United States.
Lack of healthcare services is associated with poverty. Poverty is seen as a self inflicted condition resulting from personal factors such as lack of effort and ability. Eitzen & Smith (2008) argues that the poor in this view lack healthcare because they are seen as not only lazy but they are dependent on government welfare for healthcare characteristics that Americans despise. Young poor women are especially stereotyped and stressed because they are reviled for having children out of wed lock, for transmitting negative values, and their single parent family structure is blamed for promoting violence, crime, school failure and for passing their poverty on to the next generation. For example poor single mothers are being portrayed as the ultimate outsiders marginalized as non-workers in a society that claims belief in the work ethic (Eitzen & Smith, 2008). They are also marginalized as single parents in a society that holds the two parents, heterosexual family as the desired norm, and marginalized as poor people in a society that worships success and material rewards. Another example is that being on welfare did not make sense to Lisa. Similarly Erica, an African American woman who had surpassed her parent’s economic position during her marriage, now bitterly compares her position to theirs. Households are faced with expensive options to get access to healthcare as premiums continue to rise. Moreover, in the United States more and more companies provide less and less benefits leaving households to make difficult choices concerning healthcare. Some households are able to go to local clinic while others are denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions. Some of those options, or lack thereof, might contribute to higher level of stress as husbands and wives struggle as they attempt to care medically for their children while they are financially cash-strapped. Vinela Tejeda for example explains that as an immigrant, she has come to the United States hoping for a better life for her children. Given her situation access to basic requirements of healthcare is minimal because of her working conditions. Vinela Tejeda explains that she works for seven days a week and works for eight hours on Saturdays and Sundays doing the same job in the same building. She also works two part-time jobs for two different companies hence she does not qualify for health benefits with either one (Eitzen & Smith, 2008).
The poor healthcare services for distressed individuals are associated with race, ethnicity and working conditions. Stress as a result of healthcare internalizes negative stereotypes which make people feel ashamed and humiliated for who they are. As a result, they accept society’s definition and start to blame themselves for their failures. Women in this reading go for welfare on the basis of necessity. The experience of women getting welfare was worth the pressing issues of food, shelter, and health (Eitzen & Smith, 2008). The women are shown to struggle for their survival and come to terms with their economic conditions, especially after divorce. When faced with lack of healthcare social experience, some people, especially females, feel awkward about being labeled by other social groups as welfare citizens. Eitzen & Smith (2008) established that in the story “living on the economic margins” Gina after being raised in a working family talks about how it feels more hesitant to utilize welfare food in white neighborhoods. For her situation, it is important to note that gender is created by suppressing similarities, and it is maintained by a deep ideological commitment to differences between women and men.
Stress in the context of the story “living on the economic margins” structures people’s life experiences, especially those of women. The story elaborates that when the society rejects the poor, believing that they are not only different but that they are inferior many of the poor deal with this stress by internalizing the negative stereotypes thus feeling shame, humiliation, and disgrace for who they are. The story “living on the economic margins” indicates that “in effect they accept society’s definition and blame themselves for their failure, resulting in a self-fulfilling prophecy.” After escaping from an extremely violent marriage, some Gina had to teach her child how to be discreet when they use welfare food stamps. On the basis of race, black men felt that the Mexicans paid almost nothing in income tax, claiming 8, 9, and even 10 exemptions. As a result, the men perceived that the Mexicans should be rooted out of the factory (Eitzen & Smith, 2008). In the story “Living it hating it” Mrs Fernandez was disappointed by her first experience with a white person hence after a week she tried to avoid standing by Billy Harwood. Race in this case should be seen as the major statuses, as they determine the likelihood of achieving other social statuses. From the reading, it is evident that age categories, gender, and different racial and ethnic minorities do not normally constitute social classes, because all social classes contain males, females, young people, retired people, racial categories, and ethnic people.
Susan Sheehan’s “Ain’t No Middle Class” Essay Analysis
Susan Sheehan’s sees herself as an authentic voice of the urban slum experience, and her article creates a strikingly different version of the Des Moines, Iowa. This is depicted when she says that the house, drab on the outside, was established in 1905 for factory and railroad workers. The level of earning and the economic times are shown when Bonita says that her nursing home uniform costs 10 to12 dollars. The level of disappointment with the living conditions experienced by the family is seen during the spring when they plant some crops which do not yield as expected.
People who are perceived to be living in the middle class are still facing the world of struggling and enervating living standards degradation which offers up no meaning to the middle class. This is demonstrated by Larry who, according to the article, lives in a rented apartment and owns an old clunker that often breaks down. He is a security guard at a tire company and makes a few dollars a day. The type of food Kenny prepares after work reveals that they do not live in the middle class, as salads or vegetables are regarded as a rare luxury. Eitzen & Smith (2008) established from the article that with the uniform that costs 33 dollars, Bonita Merten considers herself lucky to have been given a used one by a nurse’s aide who quitted and bought another one for only 10 dollars. This type of lifestyle cannot be integrated into the systems of value, psychology or material relations of the middle class. Bonita’s world seems to be of a different order altogether (Royce, 2009).
It is important to note that bourgeois feminine sensibility, which is portrayed by Susan Sheehan as an affective connection between the middle class and the urban underclass through their discourse of sentimentality and abjection, does not provide a focal point around which to construct even the effect of subjectivity. As indicated in the article, this is because from January to August 1st, Bonita could purchase a two-dollar meal ticket if she liked what was being offered in the employees’ dining-room. For example, Bonita’s 1994 earnings from Luther Park were only 869 dollars higher than her 1993 earnings (Eitzen & Smith, 2008). She rather regards her job with its time clocks, uniforms, tedious chores, low wages, penny ante raises, and Dickensian holiday rewards.
Susan Sheehan’s article about middle class families represented by the Mertens is distinctive and represents what is happening to the working poor of their generation (Eitzen & Smith, 2008). The inflation and economic conditions have worsened today. It is portrayed that though Kenny has brought on some of his own troubles by not always practicing thrift and by not always following principles of good money management, his situation reflects the changing times. Although 31 percent of America’s four-person families received less earnings in 1994 than the Mertens did, Kenny and Bonita did not feel like members of the middle class as they did years ago (Eitzen & Smith, 2008).
From a sociological imagination perspective, the middle class portrayed in Susan Sheehan’s article does not negate individual differences and efforts, but it seeks to examine patterns that go beyond individual cases (Royce, 2009). Royce (2009) says that readers can explore differences in access, opportunities, and constraints that shape people’s living standards in Iowa. Royce (2009) further asserts that degrading economic conditions, growing debt, and inflation help readers to understand social stratification and how the inequalities in the middle class are sorted into identifiable layers of people with common characteristics such as Bonita Merten, Kenny, and Larry.
Today a wide range of people willingly claim the middle-class status because it seems uppity to refer oneself upper-class and no one wants to admit to being lower-class, which in many cases sounds like acceptance of personal failings. The middle class in this context refers to the group that stands in the middle ground between the common working classes and the wealthy propertied classes. In the story “Ain’t No Middle Class” the middle-class distinction is seen in houses and cars and in Bonita, Larry and Kenny’s attitudes and routines, as well as their preferences or tastes in everything from browsing in shopping malls to types of food, clothing, and living standards. Finally, the article portrays that members of different classes live in different and divided worlds.