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The Problem with Social Mobility

BBC recently started a survey to answer the question: Does class still matter? Of course, the answer should be a resounding hell yes. But the question runs deeper than that. How does class affect us? What does it mean to be upwardly mobile? Is upward mobility good? Is a meritocracy ideal?

We are inclined to believe that a meritocracy is best and that upward mobility is beneficial. A society where one is rewarded based on their hard work and skill rather than birth status seems to be ideal but is it really?

The problem with a meritocracy isn’t a problem with the system itself, it is a problem with what society values. I come from a working class family. My parents are both from the same Houston neighborhood. Both of them did what they thought was necessary to get out and give their kids a better chance at life. And for that I’m thankful but I often find myself caught between the two worlds I inhabit. With a foot in each of them but not feeling like I belong in either.

I attended one of the best universities in the world. I worked hard to get there, worked hard while I was there, received my degree and worked hard to get a job that will allow me to (one day) provide for a family of my own. While in school, I found it hard to navigate in a world based on privilege that I so clearly lacked. On the other hand, most of the people I grew up around are working class people, still living in that neighborhood that my parents worked so hard to keep me out of, falling victim to the traps there.

So while my education, current job and earning potential separate me from my past, my background separates me from my peers. This may seem trivial but this middle ground, I think, is what remains unexplored in conversations of social mobility. True measures of happiness and belonging are overlooked in exchange for shallow measures of wealth. That is the true problem with social mobility.