Fall 2013

Class Still Determines Opportunity

by Melissa Lopes

Throughout history, societies have been divided into social classes. They all have different names, but their structures are relatively the same: the super-rich, the rich, and the very poor. The super-rich were always a small group of people who held all the power. Inevitably, over the course of time, the poor would rise up and revolt and a new group would take over, becoming the super-rich.

My school history teacher would say: “That is the past. We have now learned to live in a better society, without classes, where all people meet on middle ground. We live in a democracy and everyone has equal opportunity.” My experiences and statistics, however, tell a different story.

In the United States, statistics show that the gap between the rich and the poor is actually increasing. From 2009 to 2012, as the U.S. economy improved, incomes of the top 1% grew more than 31%, while the incomes of the 99% grew only 0.4% – less than half a percentage point. Now, this could be justified by saying, “sure some people are getting richer than ever before, but the poor are not getting poorer.”

In countries like the United States, that may have some truth. In first world countries, most people have access to food, shelter, education, healthcare and opportunities. This is not the case across the globe; not even in this day and age.

In developing and third world countries, these social classes are extremely visible and there is little social mobility. In my travels around the world, I have seen firsthand how the very rich live side-by-side with the very poor.

The rich are often separated by gated communities with beautiful homes and facilities; the poor live outside their fences. The children born into these rich communities attend over-priced private schools and follow in their parents’ footsteps to lives of wealth and privilege. The children outside of these fences follow in their parents’ footsteps as well. Without money for private schools, they are lucky if they can attend the state-run public schools.

In these countries, public schools often lack books, pencils and sometimes even teachers. Children spend their leisure time in the streets, often without shoes. There are, of course, rags-to riches stories that give these children hope: slum boy becomes superstar soccer player; or garbage picker becomes entrepreneur. But, as a general rule, these social classes still very much exist–democracy or not.

At Work for All, we strive to create opportunity for all people. If we all work together, the rags-to-riches stories will cease being a rarity and become an attainable goal for those with the motivation to change their circumstances. Thank you for your generous support. Together we can make a difference.