Social Analysis

Falmouth, Massachusetts is a seemingly affluent vacation town. This is what the vacationers each summer come to enjoy: fine dining beautiful beaches, boats, parties and vacation. Yet it is full of non-seasonal residents who exist in a precarious social class, the class Katherine S. Newman calls the “Missing Class”. According to John Edwards the “Missing Class” is “another—and much larger—forgotten group of people Newman calls the near poor. Fifty-seven million near poor Americans—including one in five children—live in households earning incomes between $20,000 and $40,000 for a family of four” (Newman ix).9 This “Missing Class” is passed over in the analysis of poverty because they exist above the arbitrary poverty line, of $22,050, in the year 2009 for a family of four. Yet, the “Missing Class” struggle with basic expenses and one financial crisis can plummet a “Missing Class” family into the obscurity of poverty.

The “Missing Class” sits just above the national poverty line, and are thus, excluded from the federal aid available to the poor. Yet, the poverty line, currently set at $22,050 for a family of four, does not cover basic living expenses for a family of four. Below is a chart outlining the basic cost of living in different areas as conducted by Economic Policy Institute.


According to this chart, many members of the “Missing Class” could be considered as residing under the basic cost of living, as calculated by the US Department of Health and Human Services. This number, the poverty threshold, is based upon statistics of the US Department of Agriculture’s economy food plan for families. This number does not take the actual cost of living into account. Rather, it uses the cost of food to calculate a number dictated as the poverty threshold.

The “Missing Class” is more financially secure than the poorest class, yet the “Missing Class” is just as trapped. Jobs, family life, and living conditions are all precarious, and it is the ingenuity of individuals that keep families from falling. Without the aid of the government, the concentration of the population of the urban poor, the “Missing Class”, dwelling in suburbia, is faced with hardships that the poorest of the poor do not face. “They lack the population concentration that is the basis of political power. They are victimized by a lack of low-cost housing, isolated by inadequate public transportation, and often scorned by unsympathetic and more affluent neighbors.” (Davis 78) The poor of Falmouth suffer from these conditions; they are passed over, forgotten under the façade of an affluent neighborhood. The urban poor can ride buses and group together for improvement, while people from Falmouth may watch for a used car, and drive without insurance in the winter because the closer restaurants have closed for the off-season and the only jobs available require carpooling and personal transportation.

The housing may be less-expensive than its urban counterpart, but the houses available are not inexpensive. According to the US Census of 2000, rent of more than a quarter of individuals residing in this “Missing Class” consumes more than 35% of their household income. This percentage is well above the percentages of housing costs in the chart formed by the Economic Policy Institute. If Falmouth, Ma were added to that chart the housing budget would cause the monthly total to increase significantly, because, though affordable for the housing provided, the cost of housing cuts deeply into the pockets of many working class, Falmouth residents.

In Falmouth, you cannot rent a small apartment, or a floor in a multifamily home. The rentals available are individual homes. For $2000/monoth, one can rent a 3 bedroom 2.5 bath home with a full kitchen and a yard. For a growing family this prospect is much more promising than the rentals available for $2000/month in a city. But $2000/month is still costly, and in the winter months, when the town shuts down, paying the bills can get difficult. Once again, the ingenuity of the families creates living conditions conducive to affordability. Friends move in with friends, people take boarders, and families grow to accommodate people struggling with affordable housing.

In the stories of Rita and Josh, their home has seen nine different individuals living, at different times, and in different combinations in that home, with up to seven living there at one time. This number is of individuals who have called the home their permanent address. There have been other individuals who have considered it home for a couple months while waiting for a new roommate or while searching for a new job. The family Mass Court, a biological family of four, witnesses, firsthand, the difficulties of existing just above poverty level, and opens its doors to accommodate those struggling to keep from falling.

Because the residency of each home is constantly shifting, the family life becomes less stable, friends living with friends, and parents watching other parents’ children is not an uncommon occurrence. According to the same census, in 64.5% of families with children under the age of six, both parents in the family work. Parents working, especially parents working shifts that do not coincide with school shifts. Have less time and often less energy to watch and nurture their children. If this is the statistic of families with children under school age, the statistic must only increase as children enter school, full time. Homework and schoolwork is often not as closely monitored by working parents, the activities of a child, home alone after school, are not productively directed. Children may not get into trouble, but the guiding force of parental supervision is not present to shape, form or motivate children in school.

Parents and families are not the only motivation for children to do well in school. Teacher motivation; the knowledge that further education is possible; the realization that higher education is necessary; and positive school atmosphere all contribute to educational success. In Falmouth, of 270 individuals between the ages of 18 and 24, 237 students graduate high school. That is 33 drop-outs over 6 years. Every year about 5 students drop-out. Of those 237 graduates, only 123 continue on in higher education. Suddenly, the promise and motivation of continuing education has failed. With low-income, college seems very distant, without absolute self-motivation and a determination to achieve this end, which 123 students possessed, college is not a viable option.

Without the prospect of college, gaining career experience is essential to finding employment upon your completion of school. 22% of high school students have full employment while attending school. Schoolwork, attendance and work begin to conflict, and according to the Massachusetts Department of Education, 40% of students in Massachusetts drop-out because of economic reasons “withdrawing from school for full-time employment, leaving to support families financially, job training, and other economic reasons.” 46% cited a lack of Academic success “dropping out due to failing classes, falling behind on coursework, and/ or falling behind peers on academic credits.” And finally 46% leave because of personal and family issues “leaving due to a lack of parent support… education not valued in family or parents requesting student to discontinue education.” The family and economics are the driving forces behind academic success or failure. In a family where work is valued above education because the income generated from such work is essential from falling into poverty, the work has a higher value and students discontinue education.

The social situation of Falmouth is stagnant. It is not a community of controversy, it is not a community swept up in political arguments. The very problem lies in the community’s silence. These individuals, the individuals of Falmouth’s “Missing Class”, do not look upon their situation and search for change, they are too harried working 50 hour weeks hoping to get by, they ignore the possibility that one financial crisis could plummet them into financial ruin. These individuals do not search for a way to change the way things are, rather they search to help each individual get through. They do not seek to change the system or to beat the system, but in quiet pride do all in their power to avoid being beaten by the system that has left hem behind. The line of poverty exists at $22,050 for a family of four. In Falmouth housing for a family of four costs more
than that. There is a problem in a system that does not help those individuals resting just above this arbitrary poverty line, but those existing at this level do not have the time nor the resources to fight the system that will not fight for them.

Tables and Data from the U.S. Census for 2000
Drop Out Prevention Report by the Massachusetts Department of Education