A recent NY Times expose about the wage slavery in the nail salon business has been making the rounds. But what’s important to note is that many low-wage workers are screwed by their employers. This screwing over is important in maintaining the lifestyle of the gentry class (boldface mine):
Such ill treatment highlights a problem endemic not just to the beauty industry but also to the gains of mainstream feminism. Women’s access to the work world has come at the expense of poor women’s labor to support these values. Middle- and upper-class women who work don’t have time to tidy (housekeeping), rear their children (child care) or cook (food industry), and they have to look professional (beauty care and garment industry). These services are provided by an underclass of largely people of color often living in precarious financial situations with little opportunity for upward mobility. Making matters worse, demand has allowed these economies to grow without sufficient regulation, taking advantage of vulnerable populations that need jobs and don’t have the social, cultural and often immigration status to demand better conditions or wages.
What the author calls “upper-middle class” is better described as the gentry class:
They’re not middle-class (whether it be the upper or lower reaches), since they can live very differently from (or, perhaps, better than) most of us. They can have most of the nice things. At the same time, they’re not wealthy or flat-out rich: if they don’t work, they can fall down the ladder, sometimes very quickly. Living comfortably or well with the interest on investments isn’t an option.
The reason I refer to this group as the gentry is, in part, it’s the group that’s responsible for gentrification in urban areas (no gentry, no gentrification), so it seems to fit. The other reason is to intentionally invoke the Victorian notion of the word. The gentry, whether it be a more religious, conservative style, or a more liberal, less traditional style…
While there can be cultural and regional disagreements, en masse, they are quite coherent.
While the U.S. pretends to be a class-free society (even as U.S.-ians spend an inordinate amount of time making very subtle class distinctions), the reality is we do have classes with specific economic interests.
As Reihan Salam notes, this class is perfectly content with screwing over low-income workers (though he puts it somewhat differently, as he isn’t a Dirty Fucking Hippie). Mind you, at times, this gentry class will turn on the wealthy and the rich, but they also have no problem going after those below them on the economic ladder–and they have no problem adopting beliefs and myths to rationalize away the cognitive dissonance stemming from doing so.
It’s a lot bigger problem than some nail salons in New York City.