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Class and Social Standing


Dropout refers to an individual who leaves school without having completed their course of study. The term “dropout” may stigmatize the individual and ignore systemic factors that contribute to someone not completing their education; less individual-blaming language would be phrasing like “X individual did not finish school.”

Class and Social Standing

white working class

White working class refers to non-Hispanic white workers or laborers, particularly associated with manual labor jobs or occupations. The term was heavily associated with the 2016 US presidential election and in some contexts now connotes a particular political stance that may not in fact be accurate.

Class and Social Standing

at-risk youth

At-risk youth is a term used to describe children in vulnerable situations that threaten their transition into adulthood. Because the term “at risk” has no single definition and involves so many societal factors, being specific about how the term is being used (X is considered at risk of academic failure) is more informative to audiences. Avoiding phrasing that can be read as blaming or stigmatizing the individual with language like “delinquent” or “dropout” also takes those societal factors into account. For example: “The lack of tutoring options in X’s school due to underfunding has contributed to them being at risk of academic failure.”

Class and Social Standing, Gender and Sexuality

sex work / sex worker

Sex work is an umbrella term for any work in which goods and money are exchanged for consensual erotic performances and/or sexual services. A sex worker is a person who engages in sex work. Steering clear of stigmatizing language and coded terms like “massage parlor” helps avoid reinforcing assumptions or generalizations about sex workers’ identities; all kinds of people engage in sex work.

Class and Social Standing

incarcerated person

An incarcerated person is someone confined to a prison, mental hospital, or similar institution. In general, person-first language, or phrasing such as “X individual, who was convicted of a felony,” puts the focus on the individual rather than one aspect of their circumstances, especially contrasted with terms such as ex-con, felon, convict, and criminal, which risk defining someone solely by their experience with the criminal legal system. In headlines or in shorthand, the term “prisoner” may be more straightforward and humanizing than a term like “felon” or “convict,” since not all individuals housed in jails and prisons are convicted of crimes, and such terms often imply a sense of guilt to the general public. The terms jail and prison are not interchangeable: Generally, jail is for those who have just been arrested or are awaiting trial or sentencing, though some serving shorter sentences will do so in jail. Prison is generally for those serving longer sentences.

Class and Social Standing


Historically, ghetto referred to a section of a city entirely or nearly entirely occupied by a racial or ethnic minority. In contemporary use, it often has negative connotations and associations with high rates of poverty and crime. While the term could be used with historical resonance or if an interview subject is quoted using it, in general, it’s clearer to use terminology such as section, district, neighborhood, or low-income housing developments as applicable, or, more simply, describe the specific demographics of a particular part of a city.

Class and Social Standing

homelessness / houselessness

Homelessness and houselessness are terms for the state of individuals currently lacking a regular nighttime residence. Person-first language such as “people without housing,” “people without homes,” or “person experiencing homelessness (or houselessness)” may read as less stigmatizing than a phrase like “the homeless,” as it reinforces that houselessness is one aspect of someone’s identity that doesn’t define them. “Houseless” or “unhoused” also decouples the concept from the more positive connotation of “home,” and encompasses more than “homeless,” as this could also refer to, for example, living in one’s vehicle.

Class and Social Standing

public housing

Public housing is owned or subsidized by government agencies and funding. Terms like “housing projects” or “projects” historically have been used in racist ways. If using these terms, mentioning their history adds important context.

Class and Social Standing

working class

Working class refers to a subsection of workers or laborers, defined in various ways by researchers and organizations, with a general association including manual labor and blue/pink-collar work. When using the term, it may be helpful to be as specific as possible and ensure that any broad discussion of labor considered “working class” does not present it as racially homogeneous (or overly associated with men).

Class and Social Standing

housing security / insecurity

Terms used to refer to the stability of an individual or family’s housing and living situation. No single index or definition of these terms exist, so it can be helpful to explain local concerns, such as noting if a region is more impacted by houselessness than another, along with the systemic factors that may be involved.