Class Structure: Definition & Concept

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  • 0:01 Definition of Class Structures
  • 0:44 Lower Class
  • 1:50 Middle Class
  • 3:20 Upper Class
  • 4:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica McCallister

Jessica has a Doctorate degree in Social Work

Society is divided into three major class structures: the lower class, middle class, and upper class. The following lesson explores the differences between each class structure and how each is characterized in the United States.

Definition of Class Structures

In the United States, there are three main class structures including the lower class, the middle class, and the upper class. Each of these classes are structured by varying characteristics. For example, the most common characteristics associated with class structure are income levels and educational levels. These are the two characteristics generally used to establish placement in the class structures.

A class of individuals is a group of people exhibiting similar characteristics based on income, educational levels, status, and control. Each class of individuals has different income levels and different status among society, and each demonstrates different levels of control associated with their social status.

Lower Class

The people in the lower class include those that earn the lowest levels of income in the United States. In 2014, the Federal Poverty Guidelines established by the United States Department of Health and Human Services stated that the yearly income cut-off to be classified at or below the poverty guideline for a single person is $11,670. Therefore, if a person earns at or below this level of income, they are considered part of the lower class by income standards.

Typically those living at the lower class structure are less educated than those living in the higher classes. For example, perhaps a student is attending college, and they do not work and earn an income but attend class full time. They may have no income to report, which would associate them with the lower class. However, they are able to achieve upward mobility into the next class (middle class), based on their increased income and educational levels. Those living at the lower class structure are able to qualify for various state and federal assistance programs, including federal financial aid for attending college and food and housing vouchers.

Middle Class

The second class of people, the middle class includes a large majority of those living in the United States. The middle class can be divided into two additional categories: the lower middle class and the upper middle class. The government does not specify what income ranges are associated with the middle class, but generally the income range is around $20,000-$60,000.

Household incomes for the lower middle class can range from $20,000 to $40,000, and those earning between $40,000 to $60,000 can be considered a part of the upper middle class. If one person in the household earns a majority of the income, that does not mean that the other person is part of the lower class; their income is combined. Often there is one income earner in a household. Therefore, the entire household income establishes to which class the family belongs.

Typically, both the lower middle class and the upper middle class are those that are working full time, rent or own homes, perhaps have children attending college, and may find themselves working second jobs to supplement their income and household bills. The middle class is the largest reported class of people in the United States.

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