New Book Sees Class Inequality as Big Problem for 21st Century

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The Y2K computer bug pales in comparison
with another challenge to be faced in the new millennium, says a
Purdue University sociologist.

America is quickly becoming a two-class society, argues
sociology professor Robert Perrucci, with 20 percent of people at
the top and 80 percent at the bottom.

This new class structure is making more Americans poor and
powerless and is designed to keep them that way.

‘Over the past 25 years, the American Dream of rising to the top
has taken a severe beating,’ says Perrucci, co-author of a new
book, ‘The New Class Society,’ written with Earl Wysong, a
professor of sociology at Indiana University, Kokomo.

Downsizing, technological advances and globalization have all
taken their toll on the working class since the 1970s, he said.
‘Those not already in the upper-privileged class find it very hard
to get there.’

The authors say America’s new class structure is a ‘double
diamond,’ not the traditional single diamond image that most people
have of class structure in the United States, with people rising or
falling among the ranks according to their personal
achievements.

In this double diamond, 20 percent of society, which occupies
the top diamond, enjoys the perks and security that come with
access to stable financial and social resources. Below that diamond
is a much larger diamond, connected to the top diamond by a very
narrow opening, which represents the 80 percent of society that
face job insecurity and limited financial resources, with little
chance of rising to the top.

‘There has been a tremendous shift of wealth in the past 25
years from the majority of the population to the very few,’
Perrucci said. ‘The resources of those in the top diamond are used
to maintain and legitimize the new class system. That’s because
they control the economy, politics and culture.’

While people who live in the lower diamond are comfortable, they
live precariously and many are just one paycheck away from poverty,
said Perrucci.

He argues that unless something is done to bring back a balance
in class power, the American Dream — that is, having enough money
to spend and put away for the future, with access to a college
education and high-paying jobs — may vanish for the majority of
the population in the 21st century.

Change, he says, can come through organized opposition such as
labor unions, or even small pockets of grassroots organizations.
‘If people get organized and find a voice in the political system,
there’s a chance that they can change the patterns of inequality,’
he said.

Even the rich and powerful, on some level, realize the dangers
associated with the marketplace unchecked by government or
organized labor, such as in plants closing and moving overseas,
Perrucci said. ‘Members of a privileged group know there has to be
some limits (to corporate power). Eventually people are going to
get angry, and if people get angry enough there will be severe
limits.’

Contact: Robert Perrucci, professor of sociology, Purdue
University, West Lafayette, Ind., 765-494-4714.

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