One of the major problems with the intellectual commentary class is that 90% of them are college-educated (about half probably have some graduate education). In contrast, about 1/3rd of the public is college-educated. About half the employees at The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal are graduates of elite universities.
This isn’t that much of an issue when you think about who consumes a lot of this public commentary: the subscriber to The New York Times is much more similar to the commentariat class than the American public. The problem is when there are non-quantitative attempts to understand general society. The recent feature on “middle-class” families in The New York Times is a case in point. The families in question had household incomes which ranged from $100,000 to $400,000 per year. The census will tell you that the median household income in the United States of America is $59,000. The median household income in the New York City area is $50,000 (the feature was more about the lower end of the upper-middle-class).
From what I can tell the pundit class and pundit adjacent class have a weak “feel” for this reality of the median American. The successful ones make considerably more than the median and feel under-compensated in relation to other professionals of similar education or stature. Those starting out or marginally employed aspire to career peak salaries higher than the American median and mean per capita of $30,000 and $50,000 respectively.
Though on some level you can judge someone’s income by the type of car they drive, where they live, and the clothes they wear, it is not as visible and present in the room as someone’s race or gender. When I was in graduate school many years ago people who were from lower to lower-middle-class backgrounds would sometimes gripe to me privately about the tone that some of their peers took toward the stipend and benefits of Ph.D. students. In this case, it meant a stipend somewhat higher than $25,000 a year, with relatively good health insurance. Obviously everyone wants to make more money to study what they love, but students from upper-middle-class backgrounds, in particular, expressed total contempt at the level of the stipend. Students from lower to lower-middle-class backgrounds, in contrast, came from families where their parents may not even have made as much as their graduate stipend (with minimal to no benefits). The students from less economically advantaged backgrounds were more dependent on their stipend for obvious reasons (e.g., no family support), but they also felt somewhat aggrieved with the way that those from more affluent backgrounds talked about the money as if it was less than nothing.
The issue here is that graduate students dress and live in a particular way that is not very class differentiated, and class origin is not a visible characteristic. In the United States for various reasons, it is not common to speak openly and frankly to non-intimates about your class background, past or present. At academic seminars, a lack or skew of racial or gender diversity is immediately obvious, even if unspoken. In contrast, the very likely fact of skew of class or social origin is not visible. There are cases where two people are peers, and one of them is married to a professional (e.g., I knew a graduate student married to a CPA), and the other is also married, but has a stay at home spouse with a child (again, I knew people like this). These two peers have very different lives in terms of the economic resources available.
Going back to the bigger picture, the reason that the American pundit class doesn’t talk about class in a non-parochial manner is that it’s not salient. Even though much of the pundit class lives a racially self-segregated life (for example, most of the weddings on The New York Times announcements are racially endogamous), they are self-aware of this fact more or less. They have a feel for how self-segregated they are because the public spaces they often transit through are diverse in a way that their social or professional lives are not.
In contrast, struggling writers in New York City have less of a visceral feel for the reality that their existence as someone who graduated from a selective university and has some family resources to “jump-start” their career by doing things like put down a deposit on an apartment in an expensive area is not typical (writers from deprived backgrounds may not talk about it, especially with their colleagues who talk about their parents’ summer homes). Very atypical in fact. Intuition derives somewhat from experience. Without the experience the intuition is just off.