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Class and Social Standing

transitional housing

Transitional housing is temporary housing, particularly associated and designed for very low-income and/or houseless individuals or families, sometimes referred to as low-income or subsidized housing. Using specific terminology, such as naming a particular housing program, is helpful for clarity.

urban

Urban is an adjective related to a city, town, or other metropolitan area. It’s often used as a coded term for the racial demographics of a city, including by politicians. Identifying people as “urban” is fraught with subtext, similar to a term like “inner city.” Substituting a term like “city dwellers” can avoid unintended negative connotations.

vocational

Vocational is a broad term relating to employment or a specific occupation. When discussing vocational education, it’s important to remember that it is not intrinsically inferior to a more “traditional” four-year undergraduate education.

welfare

Welfare is an increasingly outdated blanket term for a variety of government-funded programs intended to provide financial and/or other types of aid to individuals and families. It may be helpful to be specific about the benefits being discussed, or use terms like “public assistance” or “government assistance” if a specific program can’t be named.

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.

white-collar

When contrasted with blue-collar, white-collar typically implies a greater degree of educational attainment, a more specialized skill set, and higher, generally salaried, compensation. Specifying an individual’s profession or giving an explanation of how the term is being defined if used in a broader sense is helpful for clarity.

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).

YIMBY

An acronym for “yes in my backyard.” It refers to an individual known for support of local development, particularly housing development. When discussing YIMBYism, it’s useful to note the specifics of the policies in question.

“self-made”

Self-made refers to someone who purportedly established a business or amassed a fortune on their own. However, stories about “self-made people” or “rags to riches” may be an opportunity to portray how an individual’s background and systemic factors played a role in their present success and/or wealth. The bootstraps euphemism in particular is often leveraged against lower-income, nonwhite individuals.

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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