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Working Class Definition and Job Examples

Last updated 03/20/2024 by

Allan Du

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The working class is a vital part of a country’s economy, composed of people who work jobs that involve physical labor, require limited skills, or provide relatively low pay. Most of these jobs are found in industries like the service sector, including clerks, retail salespeople, and low-skill laborers. While there is debate among sociologists about the specifics of the size and makeup of the working class, most agree that it includes those between the 25th and 55th percentile of society. In the United States, many working-class jobs pay less than $15 per hour and often lack access to health benefits.
The working class is a socioeconomic term used to represent people who work in jobs that require physical labor, involve limited skills, or provide relatively low pay. These jobs often have fewer educational and/or skill requirements than other professions. People who are unemployed or who receive social welfare support are often included in this group.

Get to know the working class

The working class is often defined by economists in the United States as adults without a college degree. It is typically associated with blue-collar jobs involving manual labor and limited education. However, this definition may not fully capture the diverse makeup of the working class, as many members may also identify as middle-class.
Sociologists have varying opinions on the size and composition of the working class. Dennis Gilbert and Joseph Kahl consider it to be the most populous class in America, while others like William Thompson, Joseph Hickey, and James Henslin argue that the lower middle class is the largest. Despite these differences, Gilbert places the working class between the 25th and 55th percentile of society.
Karl Marx, a prominent socialist thinker, viewed the working class, or “proletariat,” as the backbone of society and the creators of goods and services that generate wealth. According to Marxists and socialists, the working class includes those who sell their labor power and skills for income, regardless of job type or education level. This encompasses both white- and blue-collar workers, as well as manual and menial laborers, but not those who earn money from owning a business or employing others.

The working class and European history

The origins of the working class in Europe can be traced back to the feudal era, when individuals from various professions, trades, and occupations made up a laboring class. This class, which included lawyers, craftsmen, and peasants, existed outside of the aristocracy and religious elite. This hierarchical social structure was not unique to Europe but was present in other pre-industrial societies worldwide.
During the German Peasants’ War, the perception of the laboring class’s social status being ordained by natural law and religious beliefs was challenged by the peasants. In the late 18th century, the Enlightenment era brought about changes in Europe that could not be reconciled with the notion of an unchanging social order created by a divine being. However, wealthy members of society during this time continued to suppress the working class by claiming moral and ethical superiority over them.

Variety of working-class jobs

The face of American working-class jobs has changed over time. In the 1950s and 1960s, the majority of workers labored in factories or industrial jobs. However, as those jobs have declined over the decades, most working-class jobs nowadays can be found in the services sector.
Examples of working-class jobs include the following:
  • Clerical jobs
  • Customer service
  • Warehouse workers
  • Food service positions
  • Retail sales associates
  • Cashiers
  • Vehicle operators
  • Low-skill manual labor vocations
  • Low-level white-collar workers
In the United States, working-class jobs typically offer low hourly wages and lack benefits like health insurance. Despite these challenges, the composition of the working class has become more diverse over time. In the 1940s, white Americans accounted for 88% of the working class, but that figure has since fallen to 59%. Meanwhile, African Americans now make up 14% of the working class and Hispanics represent 21%. These shifts reflect broader changes in the U.S. economy, where the decline of manufacturing and industrial jobs has led to the rise of service sector employment.

Key takeaways

  • The working class is a socioeconomic term to describe people who have jobs that require limited skills and that pay lower wages.
  • In general, these jobs have lower education requirements as well.
  • Most working-class jobs are in the services sector, which includes positions like clerks, retail salespeople, and low-skill laborers.

Allan Du

Allan Du is a personal finance writer passionate about helping people take control of their finances. Allan strives to present readers with the right knowledge and tools, so they can make informed decisions about their money and build wealth. When he is not writing about finance, Allan enjoys pursuing his other interests, including powerlifting, kickboxing, and investing. He is an active follower of economic and political trends, always keeping watch on the latest developments that could impact the financial world.

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