Impact of Class as a Social Identifier

Although there is an assumption that every individual can participate in the political process as a political right, this view might not correspond to reality as is evident in the class structure. Socio-economic status as a social identifier interacts with youth political agency, and tends to negatively impact families and children who are positioned in a lower socio-economic status, as they are marginalized in the political process. Fisher (2012) perhaps best summarizes the general role that socio-economic status plays in political engagement: “for each kind of participation, affluence and activity go together” (p. 122). Leveling the process of youth political agency is not detectible because social identifiers of youth agency with political structure can be observed in relation to parents’ income and level of education. Class is an integral part of youth agency as it is interrelated to other social identifiers. The class structure is an account of the state structural system, “the state system exists as a means through which class advantage may be reproduced” (Jeffrey, 2012, p. 64). To capture the influence of communication between state political structures, socio-economic status, and youth agency is to identify the government as a key player in youth political socialization. School curricula of civic engagements are employed as a tool to replicate the state ideology and political structure (Hart, Donnelly, Youniss, & Atkins, 2007; Levinson, 2010). This relationship is not disconnected with the premise of income, social class, and socio-economic status of youth. Pacheco and Plutzer (2008) conducted research on the relationship between students in disadvantaged schools, neighborhoods, and community and the impact of social politics set by the state in political mobility. They note, “neighborhoods characterized by high levels of poverty are unlikely to provide positive stimuli that might spur participations” (p. 576). The assumption is that government tools intended to disrupt the reproduction of poverty are perpetuating the same conditions of class system. The lack of poor people participating in elections tends to evoke the idea that the middle class and upper middle class are designing politics that preserves the cycle of maintaining the status quo (Fisher, 2012; Nall, 2015). It is apparent that the interrelationship between events and structure exemplifies the ecological theory’ s notion of the interconnectedness within the process of youth political socialization (Amna, Ekstrom, Kerr, & Stattin, 2009). The discussion of the agency of youth in a disadvantaged position should be contextualized in an ecological perspective whereby school, family, neighborhood, and community resources or lack thereof are social identifiers for youth’s interactions with political structure. An example of such interactions is the experience a 15-year-old female participant from a city shared about unemployed parents:

One month ago I heard a story ofan unemployed father who lives in Jenin, and he borrowed 7500 NIS to release his son who is in one of the Israeli security jails, the father said that his son Ahmad, who is a prisoner, is 12 years old and scared. The Israeli government imposed a bail payment of 15,000 NIS; the father promised to return the rest of money. But, until now, he hasn’t paid back the rest of the money and has asked the international organizations and Palestinian Authority to support and help him to pay back the money for the lenders because he doesn’t have money, he doesn’t even have one shekel because he is unemployed and he added that his son is underage.

It seems that in this case, lack of income and low socio-economic status correlated with a lack of political access and further marginalization. On the other hand, a high-income family would have been able to pay without such hardship. Further, research has shown that higher income families tend to have political discussions at home that reflect the interconnection between school, family, neighborhood, and politics (Fridkin et al., 2006). van Deth, Abendschon, and Vollmar (2011) argued that children’s political knowledge is associated with class structure; children from upper middle class show more concern about the environment compared to immigrants and minority children. The authors concluded that this stems from family political discussion due to their high level of education. This shows that another layer to the social identifier of class is education. Youth from highly educated families tend to be active in mainstream politics by prescribing to the system that is transmitted into youth agency. Class and education can facilitate political mobility whereby rich individuals who are educated have access to political power (Mankiw, 2013). Nguyen and Garand (2009) argued that partisan identification among Asian Americans regardless of the length of residence is founded on family income and political engagement. Education level is a factor but is tied to income and therefore political engagement in the mainstream. These findings mirror the relationship among the larger community. Pacheco and Lutzer (2008) showed that children from middle class and above tend to show competence in political process. Hence, they also argued that economic mobility could provide access to the power structure regardless of education. This notion complements Sapiro’s (2004) assertion of “cues about citizenship norms depending on the predominant socioeconomic class of the students” (p. 16). It is worth noting that some scholars argued that class as a social identifier and its political implication is usually based on cultural bias because Gordon and Taft (2011) found that youth in disadvantaged communities can also challenge the political structure but not always through the prescribed political structure. The implication of such conclusions for youth political agency is that socio-economic class is more impactful compared to education. The significance of socio-economic status as a subject of youth agency is echoed in the findings of Chong and Kim’s ( 2006) work on the intersectionality of ethnicity and class, as they state, “economic status fails to diminish the salience of race and ethnicity among those who encounter frequent discrimination” (p. 348). An example would be that African American social identifiers associated with education and poverty produce different patterns of agency. Discriminatory criminal justice propositions against African Americans had an immense bearing on the community voter turnout, according to Bowers and Preuhs (2009). On the other hand, post-secondary education ofBlack youth enhances their engagement in political and civic activism in their community (Pacheco & Plutzer, 2008). There is an intergenerational effect from the intersectionality and interaction between different environment contents. Class and other cultural social identifiers tend to impact political expectations between cultural groups of political agency, as it is evident in the work of Gordon and Taft (2011). Their works show that it is hard for disadvantaged and/or minority youth who are exercising their political agency to politically mobilize white middle-class peers in social movements because these peers are insulated from the problems affecting the disadvantaged compared to peers in the working class who have experienced first-hand violence, poverty, and racial injustice. These socio-economic and cultural identifiers intersect with youth agency and their political knowledge and aspirations. This example for youth agency with low-income background is based on their perspectives, contrary to programs that are founded on the top-down model that perceive youth with such backgrounds lacking agency and needing programs to instill personal responsibility and teach collective participation (Lelieveldt, 2004). Ravensbergen and Vander-Plaat (2010) argued that social policies are barriers for change and individuals within the community have to prompt political change. Arab Americans became politically mobilized to vote especially after September 11; however, the increase was associated with high level of income and education. However, living in well-to-do areas that reflect high education level tend to correlate positively with voting registration compared to individuals living in immigrant neighborhoods (Cho, Gimple, & Wu, 2006). This research exemplified the interactions of intersectionality, intergenerationality, and community events including the general politics. The intersectionality of socio-economic status, education, and location was also discussed in the interconnectedness of immigrants in youth in Belgium. Quintelier (2009) analyzed immigrants on several social identifiers such as income, education level, languages, gender, and ethnic identity in relation to political participation. The findings revealed that increased income led to an increase in political participation for immigrants. Furthermore, young women tend to participate in politics and a strong ethnic identity correlated positively with political participation. Language was not a factor in youth political agency. The purpose of Quintelier’s (2009) research was to find out if immigrants are integrated in society. It is worth noting that the political implication of the socio-economic status identifier should not be based on cultural bias because it constantly intersects and interacts with other social identifiers to produce a range of outcomes contingent on events. It is important to note that the socio-economic structure as it is embedded in the political system can limit disadvantaged or minority youths’ political agency, as they oftentimes do not promote the status quo.

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