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Class and Social Standing

rich / high-income

Since the term “rich” (like “poor”) is vague, it’s helpful to specify income levels or categories where possible and appropriate (X individual makes a seven-figure salary/is a multimillionaire). It’s also important to note the realities of generational wealth.

rural

Rural has a long association with being lower-income and as a euphemism or coded term for “poor.” Not all rural individuals necessarily work agricultural or other manual labor jobs in particular.

school-to-prison pipeline

The school-to-prison pipeline is a term used to refer to students, often Black students, being pushed into the juvenile justice system through disciplinary actions. If using the term, some explanation is important for context, including the factors such as systemic racism that exacerbate the imbalances among who ends up in the pipeline.

service work

Labor and work associated with providing services to people, as opposed to the creation of goods. Being as specific as possible about the type of job being covered is important for clarity, as is interviewing a wide range of subjects.

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.

skilled labor

Skilled labor is associated with specialized training or educational attainment. It’s helpful to note an individual’s specific job in coverage when possible, due to the wide range of occupations that can be considered skilled labor. If discussing as a broader category, including how the term is being defined can be useful for clarity.

SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)

SNAP stands for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. While it is still widely colloquially known as “food stamps,” that term has historically had racist and classist connotations. Using the formal name and acronym for the program alongside a brief mention for clarity (“SNAP, sometimes informally known as food stamps”) can help educate audiences.

socioeconomic status

Socioeconomic status affects and is affected by the full range of an individual’s lived experiences, including race, ethnic identity, and adverse childhood experiences. Taking these many factors into account can help ensure thoughtful coverage.

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.”

TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families)

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families is a US federal assistance program that provides financial assistance for families. TANF is often referred to simply as “welfare,” though whenever possible, describing the specific program and what kinds of benefits a family is receiving is more precise.

Last updated 08/05/22

Honest discussions of money and social standing and the myriad factors that determine them are often complicated, and the language of US news coverage tends to reflect that. People may rely on established euphemisms or coded terms when more specific language would be more illuminating.

This section of the Language, Please style guidance aims to help journalists recognize language that’s weighed down in subtext and navigate subjects of socioeconomic status and social standing in a nuanced way.

This resource was informed by questions and discussions from our own newsrooms. It is a living document that will update and expand over time. It is not meant to be comprehensive or the definitive arbiter of language “rules” but instead aims to give context and inform thoughtful decision-making. Have a suggestion for an update, change, or addition? Please get in touch.

How to use: Browse the whole section or search for the term you need guidance on; click into any term for in-depth context, additional resources, and related terms. 

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