What is 'Working Class'

Working class is a socioeconomic term used to describe persons in a social class marked by jobs that provide low pay, require limited skill and/or physical labor, and have reduced education requirements. Unemployed persons or those supported by a social welfare program are often included in this group.

BREAKING DOWN 'Working Class'

While "working class" is typically associated with manual labor and limited education, blue collar workers are vital to every economy. Karl Marx described the working class as the "proletariat", and that it was the working class who ultimately created the goods and provided the services that created a society's wealth.

Economists in the United States generally define "working class" as adults without a college degree. Many members of the working class are also defined as middle-class. Sociologists such as Dennis Gilbert and Joseph Kahl identify the working class as the most populous class in America, while other sociologists such as William Thompson, Joseph Hickey and James Henslin say the lower middle class is largest. In the class models devised by these sociologists, the working class comprises between 30 and 35 percent of the population, roughly the same number in the lower middle class. According to Dennis Gilbert, the working class comprises those between the 25th and 55th percentile of society. Common jobs for the working class include clerical, retail sales and low-skill manual labor vocations. Low-level white-collar workers are also part of this class.

Marxists and socialists define the working class as those who have nothing to sell but their labor-power and skills. In that sense, working class includes both white and blue-collar workers, manual and mental workers of all types, excluding only individuals who derive their income from business ownership and the labor of others.

History of the Working Class in Europe

In feudal Europe, most were part of the laboring class, a group made up of different professions, trades and occupations. A lawyer, craftsman and peasant, for example, were all members – neither members of the aristocracy or religious elite. Similar hierarchies existed outside Europe in other pre-industrial societies.

The social position of these laboring classes was viewed as ordained by natural law and common religious belief. Peasants challenged this perception during the German Peasants' War. In the late 18th century, under the influence of the Enlightenment, a changing Europe could not be reconciled with the idea of a changeless god-created social order. Wealthy members of societies at the time tried to keep the working class subdued, claiming moral and ethical superiority.

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