Your Labor Day opinion page gave good treatment to Americans’ struggle to make ends meet.

One discussed Labor Secretary Edward Perez’s role defending “the battered middle class.” Another, citing a lack of an “absolute definition of middle class,” said, “one clear line of demarcation is … a college degree.”

Maybe. But health care, hospitality, communications, entertainment, social services, and other fields increasingly require diplomas for working-class jobs that a generation ago didn’t. That’s one reason so many are now taking on crippling debt for a shot at that degree.

In “The Working Class Majority: America’s Best Kept Secret,” educator Michael Zweig offers better definitions of working- and middle-class: Middle-class people have a good deal of decision-making power on the job, while working-class people don’t.

Professionals, owners and managers of small businesses, and middle managers of big businesses are middle class. Hourly wage-earners, unemployed people, retirees on fixed incomes, and people holding two jobs are mostly working class.

So a tenured professor is middle class. An adjunct professor with the same doctorate, struggling every semester to secure enough classes to pay the bills — including college loans — is working class.

By Zweig’s definitons, about two-thirds of us are working class. A third are middle class. Above the fray are the 1 percent.

His definitions are useful. Is it really the middle class that Perez is unbattering? And if he’s actually fighting for the working class, why not say so?

A few years ago, to help out a working-class friend running for state Senate, my wife and I went door-knocking for her. We met a low-income man who wasn’t voting.

Why not? “All any of ’em care about is the middle class,” he said. “None of ’em care about me.”

Charlie Bernstein


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