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Discussions about class in this country begin with disparities in the division of resources - the question of `who has ' and `who has not (the latter group usually more vocal than the former ) - and inevitably lead to an examination of the way class is played out through the meters of race and gender . Women will do worse than men . Minorities particularly African-Americans , will do worse than whites . And , in fact , the large masses will do worse than the select few . It 's the way it is

Time was once that there was

fluidity in class distinctions . Leaving aside the historical disenfranchisement of women and African-Americans time was once that one could realistically pull himself up by the bootstrap - could start off poor and rise to the heights of society Abraham Lincoln did , for instance . So did Walt Disney . Increasingly though , measurements suggest that class is becoming a much more regimented affair and , along with the splendid wealth enjoyed by the few , is an expanding number of Americans suffering under deep and sometimes entrenched poverty

That there is poverty in America is without question . We all watched our televisions and saw the specter of thousands people who , whatever wherewithal they may not have had to escape Hurricane Katrina , had even less afterwards . Holly Sklar , in Growing Gulf Between Rich and Rest of Us ' puts the number of poor somewhere around 37 million , an amount to match the combined populations of Louisiana , Mississippi , Alabama Texas and Arkansas . [p . 117] Add to this a shrinking number of middle-income households (5 million families sunk into poverty in the years from 2000 to 2005 [Sklar ,

. 116] ) and a media that besieges us with ever more conspicuous consumption , and we find the class divide taking on a certain immediacy in our public discourse

Look for instance at urban centers where large African-American populations live in concentrated , often generational poverty . Here inside the world 's wealthiest nation , are among the poorest of its poor Materialism (the bling bling phenomena ) is not unique to urban ghettos but it intersects strangely and to devastating effect when poverty is added to the equation . Poverty becomes a badge of shame and that shame morphs sometimes too easily into worthlessness and then sometimes too easily into shamelessness . It becomes easy to rationalize destructive behavior . There 's nothing to lose ' goes the thinking , so why not ' Under such conditions , crime increases , violence increases and the sad irony is that where all of this doesn 't lead to loss of life , it often leads to incarceration which has the net effect of continuing the cycle of poverty

The twist , as Donna Langston makes the point nicely in Tired of Playing Monopoly ' is that we attempt to deny the existence of classes out of some sort of allegiance to our founding principle of equality for all men (however theoretical that principle was . One of the main ways ' she says , [that the myth of a classless society] keeps the working class and poor locked into...

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