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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

deaths of despair

A term coined by economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton to refer to deaths of working-age, non-college-educated, generally non-Hispanic white Americans related to suicide, drug and alcohol poisoning, or alcoholic liver disease. The concept has garnered criticism for, some say, overemphasizing the phenomenon among white Americans while ignoring that historically underserved populations also face economic barriers and lower health outcomes. Giving a brief definition when using the term can be helpful if using, as is avoid stereotyping or focusing solely on one age range and racial group.

Class and Social Standing


NIMBY is an acronym (“not in my backyard”) for an individual known for opposition to local development, often housing development but also other projects such as renewable energy, while generally supporting such measures in the abstract. When discussing NIMBYism, it’s helpful to specify the policies in question and the influence racism and classism may have in objections to those policies.

Class and Social Standing

suburbs / suburban

Suburbs refers to a housing district outside of a city’s boundaries but within its metropolitan area. It may be useful in stories that discuss redlining, zoning, or the racial homogeneity of certain suburban areas to note that many of the root causes are part of a lengthy history of racial exclusion. Suburbs do not automatically equate to “middle-class.”

Class and Social Standing

nomad / van life / vandwelling

Avoid stereotyping who may have this type of lifestyle; while some may be unhoused or houseless, it also became popular among a subset of Silicon Valley tech workers. It also may be useful to note the risks associated with travel and living outside of a “standard home,” particularly for people of color, women, and LGBTQ+ individuals who are more likely to have their presence questioned when, for example, sleeping in parking lots or gas stations.