# Cartoon: Class difference in society

1. May 25, 2015

### jobyts

2. May 25, 2015

### QuantumCurt

This is amazingly accurate. So many people are quite ignorant of just how much class stratification still exists in the US.

3. May 25, 2015

Staff Emeritus
One could discuss this quantitatively. For example, if two fathers' incomes differ by 10%, how much do their childrens' income differ by (on average). And how much should they differ by?

4. May 25, 2015

### jobyts

California has API (Academic Performance Index) scores for schools. The other full form is Affluent Parent Index.

5. May 26, 2015

### Staff: Mentor

Terrible.

For the cartoon itself, I found a few quality issues:
1. The lack of symetry between the two "dad" scenes (why was only the poor one sick?) felt manipulative.
2. I realize the chronology was non-linear to enable the "punchline" to be last, but it makes less sense that way.
3. "Paula's house is full of people and not much else"...except a flat-screen TV. "It's damp"? Damp? Really?
4. My first thought after reading this was "what did she do wrong that she ended up with a job as a waitress after getting a degree from 'polytech'?" Does "polytech" offer a degree in Art History?

After a while thinking about the message and finding it vaguely whiney/annoying ("class"? really?), but not being able to put my finger on the (other) flaw(s) in the message itself, I remembered a speech given by a Vietnam POW: He said the only thing in life that you have total control over is your attitude. So if Paula got into her 20s with lower expectations than the rich kid, it's her fault and moreso her parents' fault for setting low expectations for her and driving into her that she wasn't worth better. I dated Paula's sister. She hated her parents for that, was always rebellious growing up and succeeded despite (to spite?) them.

There's a thread going in Academic guidance about the not-as-dirty-as-people-would-like-to-think secret alternate reality: once you make it to college, virtually nothing that happened before matters anymore and it matters very little where go you. At that point, your success or failure is virtually entirely up to you.

An excerpt from an article linked in the OP:

So I guess the main thing I dislike about this is the sense of futility and worse, that people think that it's ok think it is ok to be a failure. It's not. It's not ok to be a failure and its not ok to accept thinking like a failure.

Last edited: May 26, 2015
6. May 26, 2015

### QuantumCurt

Socioeconomic class has been pretty closely tied to overall health and life expectancy. People in lower socioeconomic classes tend to have much greater levels of stress which can be a great contributor to a range of health problems. In addition, life expectancy in the wealthier classes tends to be greater. See here and https://www.apa.org/pi/ses/resources/publications/factsheet-wsh.aspx [Broken]. This is why the poor one is portrayed as sick; because it's typical of differences that exist between these two social classes. Less access to medical care, aside from just the stress, is a significant contributor here as well.

I could go buy a flat screen TV down the street at Dollar General for less than $100 right now. Specifying it as a 'flat screen' seems to suggest a greater expense, but this distinction is needless. All TV's are flat screens today. I wouldn't even know where to go to get a CRT TV. It's not necessarily that she did anything wrong as such. When a student has access to a much greater source of financial support in their parents, the immediacy of looming student loan debt is less crucial. Paula may not have any type of outside support from her family. Richard has a much easier time of receiving financial support from outside institutions as well because the lender realizes that a wealthier family is a better bet for a loan client. I hope you aren't trying to suggest that class stratification such as this doesn't exist in the US. Who says that Paula is a failure? Perhaps she's simply doing the best that she can with the resources that are available to her. It really is not a mystery that the upper class in the US has a significantly greater leg up on the lower classes. That's why the socioeconomic system in the US is so incredibly immobile. It's hard to jump from a lower class to an upper class, and rarely actually happens. Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017 7. May 26, 2015 ### russ_watters ### Staff: Mentor But not enough that it should matter here -- unless since this is a cartoon it is ok to exaggerate. Assuming your first link's claim of a 25% difference is controlled for other factors/life choices (seems unlikely, but don't feel like looking into it more), the girl's father should be in his early to mid 50s when she's graduating from college and his average life expectancy is about 67. And perhaps more to the point, there should not be much of a correllation between the sick parent and the kid's success/failure. I dated that girl as well (old dad married young mom, dad died when she was in college) and she turned-out fine as well. But to the girl's father, not to her. You probably can't buy a CRT unless it's 2nd hand, but you miss the point: the point is that the cartoon is being manipulative and dishonest when in one frame it shows the girl sitting on a bare floor in an empty room whereas in the other she's sitting on a couch, watching TV. They directly contradict each other: only one can be true. What does any of that have to do with what kind of job she got after she graduated? Having parental financial support means having less debt when you graduate, but has nothing to do with why she's waiting tables instead of working an STEM job. I am indeed. "Class" in the US is arbitrary/bastardized - mostly a myth. Like "poor" and "homeless". As the issue disappeared, the definition had to be adjusted over time to keep the word relevant and today it bears no resemblance to what it used to mean. Know any Indian-Americans? Ask one if they think "class" exists in the US. Caveat: this cartoon was made in New Zealand. I'm not sure this really accurately represents what life is like in a bottom 5% household in the US. I say Paula is a failure. She apparently graduated from a technical university and is waiting tables instead of working a$60,000 STEM job. That's failure. And presuming that if there was any societal or bad-luck reason for her failure it would be shown in the cartoon, I am left to conclude that it was her fault.
The word "class" is meaningless, so I'll rephrase: parents pass things onto their kids. Money. Knowledge. Attitude. These things can either help their kids or hurt them. Based on this cartoon - and I agree, the most important thing separating people is attitude.
Don't confuse the fact that something doesn't happen with a conclusion that it can't. The US is a free society and as such, there simply are no actual barriers to mobility. The problem in the US that creates the lack of mobility is cultural. It's the attitude.

Last edited: May 26, 2015
8. May 26, 2015

### Staff: Mentor

By the way;
Yes, I understand that as a matter of convention it is permissible to draw an arbitrary line across an income distribution and label those underneath the line "lower class". But the cruel irony here is: who then made those people "lower class"?

9. May 27, 2015

### QuantumCurt

These are all issues that would very easily affect a kid. If the parents don't have health insurance, then the kid isn't going to have it either. Medical cards will only cover so much. The stress of dealing with the health issues of an ailing parent can also easily result in increased stress in the child, leading to health problems of their own. Not to mention that kids with ailing parents often have to devote considerable amounts of time to caring for them, which means they have less time to focus on their schoolwork and building a professional network and such. If Richard's parents were sick (because it turns out that rich people do occasionally get sick too), they're likely to be able to afford professional care. Richard probably won't have to take time away from school to care for them.

I can see your point here, but I don't really think this is a contradiction. Someone can be in poverty without a TV, then save enough to buy a TV eventually while still being in poverty. Both of these scenarios can quite easily be true.

This is true, and I don't think I stated my point well. I think in many respects this is a weaker point in the whole argument and can't necessarily be tied to class (whether you agree with that term or not) in the same way as some of the other issues. There are many college grads that are unemployed after college, and this isn't in any sense exclusive to the lower classes. I will add that many previous points can be tied in here - Richard is more likely to have gotten connections for obtaining good internships and research experiences. If Richard is studying engineering and Dad is a respected engineer at a top firm, Richard basically has a foot already in the door. This internship is going to look great on his future applications. Paula isn't so likely to have had this 'foot in the door' opportunity that Richard had. That being said, there are many internships available that don't require having an 'in' of any kind. I'm doing an internship at Fermilab this summer, and neither of my parents even have college degrees. Access to resources or connections isn't always a problem. Whether or not it is depends largely on the field in which one is studying. Regardless, it is true in many instances.

The class system in the US isn't as extreme as the varnas system in India. Neither is it as extreme as class systems in Japan or many other countries. But a failure to live up to the standards of the more extreme examples doesn't suggest that it doesn't exist. The definition of poverty has changed over time because our economy has changed a great deal over time. The overall standard of living in the US has improved a great deal, and it has improved for nearly every socioeconomic group of people. However, there are still huge numbers of homeless people that are legitimately living on the streets and living off of the metaphorical scraps falling off the table. I took a train through Union Station in Chicago last week and had a 3 hour layover there. I took a walk behind along the river and was approached by 4 different homeless people asking me for spare change within about 5 minutes. This is a very prevalent problem in many areas. Granted, the back of the train station certainly isn't representative of a city as a whole, let alone the nation as a whole. Even in my small hometown of 16,000 people though, there is a large population of homeless people.

Regardless, the fact that our lower class isn't typically living in a house with a mud floor doesn't change the fact of the matter: stratification, or difference in class. The class system of the US is quite distinct from the more extreme class systems in other countries, and it is not as readily acknowledged. People in the US grow up constantly being told that they can do anything they want to do, and are surrounded by rags to riches type stories, that almost never reflect reality. In principle it is entirely possible for someone to come from nothing and hit it big. They come into a lot of wealth and become 'New Money.' The problem is that this isn't really enough to consider them as upper class. The upper class isn't the people with the most monetary wealth, it's the people with the most power and prestige. This often comes from family recognition, or 'Old Money.' This is why there are so many recurring names in politics, Wall Street, and big business. Family connections count for a whole lot in these areas. Even if someone becomes 'New Money,' the chances of them actually laying a foundation and passing this wealth through multiple generations while also gaining the prestige and the name recognition needed to become Old Money are fantastically slim. In principle this is possible. In practice it almost never occurs. The upper upper class is essentially locked. Even the upper middle class is virtually closed to upward mobility because of the simple fact of a lack of family recognition.

There are countless examples of people who have worked their asses off for their entire life and had a very positive attitude the whole way through. And yet the vast majority of these people have never achieved the upward mobility embodied by the "American Dream." Attitude counts for a lot, but it certainly is not everything. This name recognition matters far more in some areas than it does in others. In STEM fields I'd say it often matters far less. In fields like finance, politics, investment banking, and other related fields, it can matter a great deal. If Richard's dad owns an investment banking firm, his job hunt took him as long as it took to walk across the stage with his diploma. If Paula's dad is a janitor, she's going to have a much harder, and likely much longer job hunt. That could very easily be why she's waiting tables.

Last edited: May 27, 2015
10. May 27, 2015

### Staff: Mentor

Again: not enough that it should matter here. In order for this cartoon to be meaningful it has to be showing typical/common situations. Otherwise, I could just as easily re-write it to show the rich kid getting hit by a bus in the last frame.
Exactly: So if that's the other side of the coin, they should show it that way.
"Many", "more likely". How many?(I'll provide, later) Again, if this cartoon is intended to be a commentary on a social reality, it needs to accurately reflect the typical reality.
Agreed. One of the issues I always see with these types of commentaries is the idea of "fairness", though. Richard gets a foot in the door because of his dad. Is that unfair? Would it be more fair to find a way to deny Richard's parents the freedom to help their kids? And does that present a barrier to Paula's success? Why can't we ignore Richard completely here and focus on Paula and the reasons why she failed?
Fairy tales are fairy tales and they aren't a counter-point here. We're supposed to be talking about whether this cartoon reflects reality, not whether some other untold stories do.
I can't be bothered with such issues. I can't imagine why i would care how rich people treat other rich people. What matters to me is figuring out how Paula could have taken a path that usually leads to success and right when she got to the end, she failed.
An attitude needs to be more than just "positive", it needs to be "good". It needs to be focused and pointed in a direction that leads to success. If Paula took a "positive attitude" into art school, her odds of success were very low because she made a stupid decision. Maybe you consider those two different things, but I consider them two parts of the same thing.
Regardless of the specific reason, the point of my annoyance is due to the fact that if this cartoon is supposed to present social commentary, it should accurately reflect the typical situation. Graduating from college, even if not with an STEM degree provides a near certain path out of poverty. Here's the reality:

Now, the graph was created to focus on inequality, but if you look at what it actually says about the person who started poor, what it says is that a person who starts poor and graduates from college has an 84% chance of getting out of the bottom 20%. That person also has a greater chance of ending up in any other quintile than the bottom or even the second from the bottom. Put another way, the cartoon would have more accurately reflected reality if at the end of the cartoon she has a high-paying Wall Street job instead of a waitressing job.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs...etter-than-rich-kids-who-do-everything-wrong/
[Aside: note the title of the article in the link. Note that it's wrong according to the stats. That's the real myth at work here.]

Last edited: May 27, 2015
11. May 27, 2015

### Bandersnatch

The cartoon suggests that she didn't finish her college due to having to look after an ailing parent/not being able to secure a loan to continue her studies without parental financial support.

12. May 27, 2015

### DaveC426913

I won't argue the assertion that there is stratification in the US, but while I was reading the cartoon, my thoughts were that Americans have the right to the pursuit of happiness, not the right to happiness.

In any population, there is an income distribution (this is self-evident - there must be a lowest income, there must be a highest income). So, some people will be at a disadvantage (assuming high income is the success criteria). In my opinion, the issue of stratification comes when we ask if Paula was prevented from pursuing her dreams - despite her efforts - because others saw her as lower class.

There's no question that, if you start a race missing a shoe, you will have a harder time winning. The question is, are you free to try? (pursuit of happiness) Or is someone working to disqualify you? (class structure)

13. May 27, 2015

### Staff: Mentor

I'm not so sure that's what was intended: the loan frames were shown side-by-side and his parents paid for his college, so what does he need a loan for if not for a house? And since it was already established that she was paying for college via loans/a job, there was no need to apply for something she already had.

If she dropped out to care for a sick parent (regardless of the loan issue), that would certainly be a big problem, but it would also be a pretty rare situation and therefore not very helpful for illustrating "class differences".

14. May 27, 2015

### Staff: Mentor

In the US, kids with wealthy parents are ineligible for many loans and grants, this hurt my kids when they applied for loans.

15. May 28, 2015

### jobyts

More than the fact the the class system exists or whether it is good/bad/ineviteable, the point the author trying to make is Richard's failure to realize the handouts he received in different stages of his life.

My way of looking at the social/economic problems is same as a genie analogy Warren buffett said in one of his talks.

16. May 28, 2015

You think entry-level STEM jobs exist that pay $60k? haha I think the cartoon is certainly implying that Paula hasn't finished college yet. Having to work at the same time in order to pay for it can really drag it out. So yes, by the time Richard is getting a mortgage, Paula could well be looking for a way to fund her last year of classes. But what the cartoon is really about is the fact that society is congratulating Richard and patting him on the back for his accomplishments, when in reality he had so much handed to him; while at the same time being quite judgmental of Paula, casting a moral judgment on her character due to her economic situation. Even you are doing it. Paula was dealt a very different hand of cards, and I think that can be hard to comprehend if you haven't seen it first hand. Yes, her house may very well be "damp"...since this is New Zealand, my guess is that the usage is similar to how it's used in the UK, where it means the house has a condensation problem that causes mold. It causes all kinds of health problems and can be very expensive to repair properly. Paula's family likely has a landlord who refuses to do anything about it, and you may have noticed that exercising the court system to go after said landlord requires resources that Paula doesn't have (time, money). Not to mention that juries tend to be highly judgmental (irony appreciated), and all the landlord's lawyers need to do is subtly attack Paula's character (yes, it's forbidden by the rules of evidence, but oh, it's so easy to do...). 17. May 28, 2015 ### Ben Niehoff I'm very curious what you mean by this. Do you think homeless people don't exist? Or poor people? What do you mean? 18. May 28, 2015 ### russ_watters ### Staff: Mentor I'm sure they do, but the average starting STEM salary is$66k, not $60k (again: US numbers). Yes, I pulled$60k out of the air and was wrong low. My bad.
http://www.burning-glass.com/research/stem/
Frankly, that's another pretty stupid part of the cartoon. Who is throwing him a black-tie party? For what? Who does stuff like that?
Again, I don't think people do that and I most certainly am not. I'm simply looking for a plausiable explanation for her failure, given that she appears to have failed right at the end of her journey when it looks like she should have succeeded.

19. May 28, 2015

### Staff: Mentor

Specifically, the definitions/statistics are twisted to make the numbers look much, much larger than they really are based on more logical/traditional definitions. The problem with "poor" is worse in Europe than in the US, for example. In the US at least we use an absolute standard (though we change it yearly for an ever-increasing standard of living). In Europe it is a fixed fraction of median income, which means "poor" is defined in terms of equality not in terms of living conditions. That has nothing whatsoever to do with what the word "poor" actually means.

For "homeless", there are several different measures, some more useful than others. It is common to count "homeless" throughout a year, which vastly overstates the issue because it is often a very temporary thing. It also includes people who are temporarily in transition, like a buddy of mine who planned an apartment transition poorly and had to live with friends for a couple of weeks.

Another one I don't like is "food insecure". But we need that one to measure a hunger problem when hunger doesn't actually exist at any measurable level.

I see you didn't ask me about my problem with "class". Are we agreed that that one is completely arbitrary/useless/meaningless?

20. May 28, 2015

### Staff: Mentor

Please explain: what is "the class system"? How do I measure a person's "class"? What implications are there for being in one "class" or another?