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Social Class, Poverty, and the American Dream

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on 1 December 2014

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Transcript of Social Class, Poverty, and the American Dream

Social Class & Class Culture
The American Dream
The American Dream is defined as "land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement" -James Truslow Adams (1931)
This concept is based on individualism and individuals strive for upward social class mobility to become wealthier and succeed
People internalize the expectation to succeed, without being aware that certain barriers related to social class, religion, race, etc., will impede them from opportunities to reach their success
Rich people have an advantage to succeeding because they are closer than the the poor to life opportunities for upward mobility
Students who come from affluent backgrounds will more likely have the resources to succeed but students from low-income backgrounds will have limited resources and will most likely face institutional discrimination
As advocates for students, we have to look for resources for low-income students in order to help them achieve success and help them understand to not internalize this expectation that can only be achieved by a few
Consumer Culture
Consumer culture is "the ground on which we live, the space in which we learn, the lens through which we come to understand the world around us" - Sut Ihally (1998)
Advertising in the media plays a significant role in how we define our morals & values. It shapes the thinking in our culture that we are what we buy. As a result Americans have become a part of "the joyless economy" -- in other words as wealth has increased the number of happy people has decreased.
Consumer culture promotes an individualistic society where people are more concerned about individual gain than collective issues, like poverty and plight.
Consumer culture negatively impacts psychological well-being , heightens social problems, and hurts our ability to come together in creating solutions for our problems.
Social Mobility through Education
• Idea that “Educational achievement is the main pathway to social mobility”
o Educational achievement is at times marketed to poor as equally open to all
o If you don’t achieve social mobility, seen as morally weak
o Working class families achieve social mobility though adversities through cultural supports, affirmative action, and being bicultural
o White middle class folks raised in “discourse of education” have cultural capital that translates to advantages in the marketplace of education
• Middle and Upper class take advantage of all 3 capitals translating into educational achievement and economic achievements:
o Social capital: access to relationships that enables advancements “It’s not what you know but who you know.”
o Human capital: personal charisma, interpersonal skills, physical ability beauty
o Cultural capital: “tastes and aesthetic sensitives in one’s social class as signals to others that one belongs”

Counseling the "Underclass"/ Implications

Working class families have difficulty with long-term appointments
• May face greater risk of loosing job to attend appointments
• Counselors are reluctant to make home visits were they feel endangered
• When dealing with public and community agencies with poorly run and poorly resourced, poor communities encounter negative experiences
• They want concrete advice and tangible support (p. 402)
• Counselors need to understand day-to-day challenges that people face in poor communities
• Counselors could help “clients to develop qualities and skills sets that build the resilience, strength, and perseverance necessary to survive” (p. 403) community challenges
• Clients might need basic needs such as food and shelter
Effects of Being Poor
Consumer culture advertising and marketing gives the impression that wealth is attainable by any one. They also portray the rich as heroes (hedonistic consumerism) and the poor as corrupt and dysfunctional.
The discourse on poverty makes the poor internalize the reasoning behind their social class standing. As a result many experience feelings of helplessness & desperation.
As a result of hedonistic consumerism, youth of color measure success by material possessions. This can create feelings of envy, which has led to violence that is surrounded around stealing others' valuables.
In schools, students feel pressured to show ownership of valuables and hide shame about being poor, so they aren't ridiculed by peers
Served by poor health and education systems, some poor turn to drugs to dull the pain of being unable to realize the American Dream
Social Class, Poverty, and the American Dream
What is it like for families who are poor? Could you survive a month living below the poverty line for a month?
Try out this poverty simulator:
By Paulina Hernandez, Sergio Arredondo, & Tiffany Burnett

1. As a counselor/psychologist, holding a position of power, how does one advocate for the needs of students from low-income backgrounds?
2. What type of experience did you have growing up in your social class status? And given this experience, how will it influence your work with youth?
3. How would you use broaching with a student who could feel ashamed of their class status?
4. How did the activity affect your view of families who live below the poverty line?

Difference between Class Status and Socioeconomic Status:
Class Status- Influenced by social relations (ruling class, middle class, and working class)
Socioeconomic Status- Social groups defined by income level (upper, upper middle, middle, lower middle, and lower)
There are differences between classes such as the middle and upper classes hold positions with power while the lower class has to live off of labor and face "alienation" with horrible working conditions (Monk, Sinclair, & Winslade, 2008, p. 383)
Many americans internalize failure because social position is assumed to be based on effort, personal worth or merit and talent
Poverty impacts the well-being of students and often times low-income students do not receive the appropriate treatments or therapy compared to someone with a middle class background
Poverty can also impact students because they are often surrounded by conditions that will reproduce poverty and they are more likely to be exposed to violence
It is important to take into consideration students' cultural context in order to provide the best support that will ensure success
Classism is prejudice that is based on social class standing.
Classist discourse is used to reason why some people deserve wealth/resources & others do not
4 types of classism:
Upward - towards upper class
Downward - towards lower class
Lateral - keeping up with the Joneses
Internalized - works on the inside
Counselors who have not confronted their own classist attitudes may be prone to disrespectful/abusive behaviors
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