Roquemore is among the small but surging share of Americans who identify themselves as “lower class.” Last year, a record 8.4% of Americans put themselves in that category — more than at any other time in the four decades that the question has been asked on the General Social Survey, a project of the independent research organization Norc at the University of Chicago.
The rising numbers surprised some researchers and activists even in light of the bruising economy. For decades, the vast majority of Americans have seen themselves as “middle class” or “working class.” Even during earlier downturns, so few people called themselves lower class that scholars routinely lumped them with working class. Activists for the poor often avoid the term, deeming it an insult.
When people call themselves lower class, “we’ll say, ‘You’re not lower than someone else. You just have less money,'” said Michaelann Bewsee, co-founder of Arise for Social Justice, a Massachusetts low-income rights group. But many don’t consider it insulting today, Bewsee said…
Last year, less than 55% of Americans agreed that “people like me and my family have a good chance of improving our standard of living,” the lowest level since the General Social Survey first asked the question in 1987. An unusually high share of the unemployed — more than 4 million Americans as of August — have been out of work for six months or longer.
This isn’t a large group of Americans identifying as lower-class but it is noteworthy when it is at the highest level in the history of the GSS. It would appear then that the general American answer that we’re all middle-class still generally holds true even as changing economic conditions push more people to change their self identification.