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Class and Social Standing

opportunity gap

The circumstances in which people are born over which they have no control (e.g., race, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, zip code) that impact their opportunities in life. Using terms like “opportunity gap” instead of “achievement gap” can draw attention to the systemic disparities that underserved communities face, and shifts dialogue away from blaming children for their life circumstances.

poor / low-income

Poor or low-income refers to having little money or few possessions. In general, using terms like “poverty” or “lower income” (and explaining how those terms are being defined, for instance by the US Census) is clearer.


Poverty is a transient rather than a permanent state, and can be relative, as when comparing individuals or places (cities, states, countries). Common pitfalls when covering poverty include sensationalizing someone’s circumstances and stereotyping, such as referring to people experiencing poverty as victims or criminals, or as exceptions to these categories.

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.

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 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.

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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