By Rebecca Rooy

International development is a passion of mine. Much of my past work and studies have been focused on the economic disparity of developing nations. However, with the increasing gap between the rich and the poor of our nation, I’m beginning to realize that my concentration on disparity should include a domestic focus.

Class consciousness is not a new subject for discussion. However, this concept is beginning, again, to grow in prevalence.

As a nation, we are sorely divided into groups: the lower class, the middle class, and the upper class. These economic classes don’t stay just that: these classes move past the immediate realm of monetary value and infiltrate all points of our lives. According to Ruby Payne, who is considered an expert in class division, “Your class, determines everything: your eating habits, your speech patterns, your family relations. It is possible to move out of the class you were born into, either up or down, but the transition almost always means a great disruption to your sense of self” (54).

These groups are almost independently decided on one factor: education. The average annual income differs drastically according to level of education (54):
No High School degree: $13,085
High School graduate: $21,079
Bachelor’s degree: $40,166
Master’s degree: $51,509
Professional degree: $76,497
Doctoral degree: $70,165

These extensive divisions pose a challenge to both economic and workforce developers. Not only does the workforce need to develop educational skills to attract and retain companies within targeted industries, there must be a common ground developed throughout the workforce way of life. For example, when a company decides to relocate to an area and establish a training program for their industry in order to fulfill their employment needs, workers have the potential to begin to shifting in their “class ranking,” which could, in turn, create disruption among the “class cultures.” A balanced sense of self is necessary in order to satisfy both the workforce and the industries residing in an area.

Divisions are everywhere in the United States. Although many of these contribute to our richness in culture and diversity, the wealth gap is unhealthy to our sense of community. Economic development programs throughout the nation have the potential to assist in closing that gap.

Tough, Paul. “The Class-Consciousness Raiser.” The New York Times Magazine. June 10, 2007. 52-56.