08.19.2015
  • United States

How Class and Race Immiserate

  • Matt Bruenig

Class and race operate both separately and together to impoverish huge swaths of American society.

Children in Baltimore. Patrick Semansky / AP

The American left continues to debate whether race or class is the motivating force of oppression and suffering in US society. But as many scholars have argued, the question rests on a faulty premise — race and class are inextricable in the historical development of capitalism in the US, and this remains true today.

This series of charts, which breaks down five social indicators by race and educational attainment (a common way to identify class), shows how race and class operate both separately and together to immiserate large swaths of society.


1. Poverty

2013 Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement
2013 Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement

2. Health Insurance

2013 Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement
2013 Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement

3. Employment

Current Population Survey, January-December 2014
Current Population Survey, January-December 2014

4. Incarceration

National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, discussed in Western & Pettit (2010).
National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, discussed in Western & Pettit (2010)

5. Life Expectancy

MaleLife
Olshanskey (2013)

 

FemaleLife_0
Olshanskey (2013)

What Does It Mean?

These indicators, and others not featured here, all follow the same basic pattern. Socioeconomic status or “class” (proxied here with educational attainment) exerts the largest force in determining whether one will be hit with poverty, joblessness, lack of health insurance, incarceration, and premature death. But, at the same time, class does not explain everything — significant racial disparities exist within socioeconomic groups as well.