I was listening to the Vox podcast The Ezra Klein Show last week with guest Professor Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, who wrote The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class. The conversation centered around class mobility and Currid-Halkett made a claim I found horrifying: I’m a member of the modern elite.
“But I don’t make nearly enough money!” I thought. Being about ready to graduate next month, I’ve also been having some employment-related anxieties lately.
Well, Currid-Halkett’s point was that elitism isn’t really about money anymore. Due to mass production of consumer goods, the elite today aren’t as likely to signify their class position by purchasing fancy watches and cars. Now people signify their class position by shopping at Whole Foods, taking yoga classes, and listening to NPR (or Vox).
“Yoga is elitist?” I think sheepishly. I also occasionally go to Whole Foods and definitely listen to NPR on the way to work.
Klein asserted that many college graduates, approximately 36 percent of 25 to 34-year-olds, are struggling to find jobs that pay well. “Exactly!” I thought. Though as Currid-Halkett pointed out, if college graduates are struggling, think of how much more everyone else must be struggling.
Currid-Halkett also argued that those who are college-educated, even if they’re not currently earning much, have much more opportunity for social mobility than high school graduates. Apparently, we have certain behaviors and have acquired knowledge in certain areas that allow us to at least blend in with upper classes.
Currid-Halkett argues these new markers of class will only exacerbate inequality and discourage social mobility in the coming years. The wealthy will increasingly invest in activities that allow their children to acquire knowledge rather than material goods, like piano lessons, language classes, and SAT prep.
I felt disheartened thinking about how children won’t be able to succeed unless they’ve had access to quality education early in life. But I also felt sad for even those wealthy children spending all their free time in music classes and after school lessons, already developing the mindset that everything needs to be about building a resume.