This week I read Class Matters, by correspondents of the New York Times. This is an anthology of articles, all on class and economic status, collected from the pages of (suprisingly) the Times by some of their most dedicated and talented reporters. Many people do not realize that class is a big deal, or at least, don't think it's as important as it once was. However, this is far from true. Even as class lines seemingly blur, with material items becoming more available to everyone (Oh, "poor" people with iPhones - they can't really be THAT poor then, right? Wrong.), economic mobility is in fact decreasing, and the wage gap is widening. In fact, as some of the later articles discuss, the "hyper-rich" are leaving even those we consider wealthy behind in terms of income.
All of the articles are very interesting; they use the lives of real people to convey to the reader the vivid understanding that mere graphs and data cannot. The very first article after the introduction, and one of my favorites, uses the examples of three people who have had heart attacks to convey the shocking disparity between class lines. A wealthy architect, a middle-class businessman, and a maid barely scraping by - all of them have had a heart attack, but the treatment they received during and after the crisis is drastically different. This first chapter does a magnificent job of showing how far-reaching the effects of class truly are. It not only affects what sort of care one receives immediately, but also how able they are to follow up on a decent treatment plan afterward. For a rich architect, it's simple to join a gym and start eating healthy, fresh meals every day. For a housekeeper who has grown up on the fatty foods that are all she can afford and is a devoted smoker, it just isn't that easy. This first article is more far-reaching than the others, encompassing people of all classes, and that is why it serves as a great introduction. It sets the stage for what follows, and what follows is a lot: discussions of cross-class relationships, the nomadic lifestyles of some of the upper middle-class, the effects of education on upward mobility, and the lives of the people at the very top of America's class pyramid are just a few of the topics covered.
Class Matters, if a bit dated (it was compiled in 2005), is incredibly informative to readers of all types. Even someone who doesn't know anything about economics will have no trouble understanding this book. This is important, because the topics covered here are important - people need to know about the truth of class inequality, and how it affects everyone, not just the very poor or the very rich. To someone new to the subject, Class Matters offers an excellent introduction. Even to those who are more informed, there's likely to be some new information here. Overall, this is an excellent book and a highly recommended read.