Dig Deeper - Class and Conscience in America

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Class is something I know about.  I’ve lived it every day of my life, and it shaped me in my identity.  --- David Lindsay-Abaire In 2005, The New York Times issued a special section entitled “Class Matters,” in which “a team of reporters spent more than a year exploring ways that class - defined as a combination of income, education, wealth and occupation - influences destiny in a society that likes to think of itself as a land of unbounded opportunity.”  You can find plenty more information at their website and Times Books has published the series in paperback, but here is an excerpt that speaks to the questions of class and conscience raised in David Lindsay-Abaire's Good People now on stage at Lyric Arts.

Day 11:  Up From the Projects - A Success Story That’s Hard to Duplicate

The case of a welfare mother of six pulling herself into the ranks of the middle class is rare enough to compel experts on class and poverty to zero in on a single question: What would it take to create more Angela Whitikers?  (Angela Whitiker, her oldest son, and their struggle towards the middle class were profiled in The Times in 1993. )

“It shows the importance of work and marriage,” said Sara S. McLanahan, a professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton who specializes in family and poverty. “She found a good man and a good job. The thinking now is, it takes both to move out of poverty.”...

The reason is that upward mobility requires what sociologists describe as the twin pillars of success: human capital and social capital. Human capital is a person’s education, job credentials and employability. Social capital usually means emotional support and encouragement from a reliable stakeholder in one’s life, an asset commonly associated with marriage that is itself a form of wealth...

Of the small number of poor single mothers who marry, 56 percent are lifted out of poverty, according to a 2002 study conducted by Signe-Mary McKernan and Caroline Ratcliffe for the Urban Institute. Getting a job is more common, and 39 percent of poor people who are hired rise out of poverty, as against 35 percent who get at least a two-year college degree...

                                                  Cassandra Proball

                                                  Cassandra Proball

Still, the ups and downs of Ms. Whitiker’s middle-class existence show that the transition out of poverty is not an easy one. “As well off as her economic situation is, her success is precarious,” Professor Allen said. “This is a reminder that you can be middle class but in a very unstable situation.”...