The barrier and the chances of getting hold of the good things in life, as between the middle and lower classes, is indicated in a general way by the following facts: After the long depression, just passed, when times improved, the sons and daughters in middle class homes who had been incidental helpers in stores and on farms or who had been idle were early in the recovery sufficiently numerous, sufficiently trained and polished, and with sufficient contacts to fill up whatever new jobs appeared, and they left almost as many people on relief and on the WPA as before. These less fortunate groups, then, did not share early in the recovery. On January 26, 1940, the WPA 4Next Page
Issued the findings of a nation-wide survey of what happened to the 775,000 WPA workers fired last July and August under the eighteen months dismissal clause. It showed that of each 100 dismissed workers: only thirteen had jobs by November, half of them at wages below WPA's security levels.
Those who interpret American history in terms of workers rising into the middle classes by way of retailing often forget the percentage of bankrupt stores, into which many workers have put the last of their savings only to see them disappear. Without much previous experience and family tradition it is not often easy to engage successfully in retailing. Shumpeter warns that when a small enterpriser over-reaches himself, he encounters disaster. It is not always possible to weather the storm. 5 Gumplowicz is more explicit: 6
The member of the middle class is educated in "business" traditions. Trade, commerce, and business profit are his ideals from childhood . . . . Seldom can the peasant, bound to the soil . . . think of leaving his hereditary pursuit. As a rule he is unable to conceive of such a thing.
The same may be said, in general, of other toilers. But even if they get the idea, they have much, much difficulty in realizing their dream.
It is among the business classes, not among the craftsmen, that the chief resistance to the notion of a stratified society is to be found. "Commercial life," says Fahlbeck, "is naturally an enemy of a highly stratified society (Ständegesellschaft) . . . The crafts, which work for the nearby market, find themselves at home in the Ständegesellschaft and do not attempt to break its narrow limits." 7 It is entirely possible that many middle class persons interest themselves in breaking down the social class structures on the basis of compulsions motivated by their own feelings of anathema against any barrier to mobility. It becomes clearer upon reflection and after investigation that most of the actual mobility that exists is within the middle class themselves, and most of the theories about the chances and opportunities emanate from that same background of hope and experience. In sum, the barrier between the lower and the middle classes, created by both groups but especially by middle class competition for all good things, is higher and more difficult to cross than many middle class persons imagine.
The habits, planning, child care, zeal, and alertness developed in the middle classes (but not among the lower classes) need only some more polish, time, wealth, and a slightly different type of education -- mostly quantitative elements -- to qualify them for the higher classes in any modern community. But the differences between the proletarians and the middle classes is qualitative, as will be seen. Lair describes the backgrounds of middle class persons in these words: 8
The man -- as well as the woman -- of the middle classes has behind him one generation or more which belonged to the same class as he or she. These ancestors had acquired some means, more or less considerable but sufficient at least to provide for their children, even at the price of certain sacrifices, a secondary if not a university education . . . . All will have the very legitimate ambition to reach the higher runs of the social ladder. A minority of them will succeed . . . .
The nature of the barrier between the middle and lower classes and the advantages naturally belonging to the former are intimated and described, respectively, by Cooley: 9
Wealth, the most obvious and tangible source of caste [meaning class], is transmissible . . . [and] is convertible not only into material goods but, if the holder has a little tact and sense, into other and finer advantages -- educational opportunities, business and professional openings, travel and intercourse with people of refinement and culture . . . that it does, as a rule, perpetuate the more conventional sort of superiority is undeniable.
4. New York Post, January 26, 1940.
5. Joseph Schumpeter, "Die Sozialen Klassen in Ethnischhomogenen Milieu," in the Archiv für Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik (Tübingen, 1927) pp. 19 - 20.
6. Ludwig Gumplowicz, The Outlines of Sociology (Philadelphia, 1899) pp. 164 - 165.
7. Pontus E. Fahlbeck, Die Klassen und die Gesellschaft (Jena, 1922) p. 204.
8. Maurice Lair, "Le peril des classes moyennes en France," in the Revue Economique Internationale, 15th year, vol. II (April - June, 1923) pp. 44 - 45; translation ours.
9. Charles Horton Cooley, Social Organization (New York, 1909) pp. 212 - 213.