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Inclusive Language

Socioeconomic Status and Classism in Language

Those who grew up in or currently live in places with few resources understand that words that describe socioeconomic status influence the way a person or their community is viewed and how they view themselves. Using language that maintains the dignity of individuals and communities and not laying blame on populations is pivotal. Language that talks down to individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds perpetuates classism.

Classism is the assignment of characteristics of worth and ability based on actual or perceived social class and the attitudes, policies, and practices that maintain unequal valuing based on class. Classism can be expressed via prejudiced or discriminatory attitudes, language, or behaviors directed toward individuals based on perceived or actual social class. This can occur in interpersonal interactions, education, housing, health care, legal assistance, politics, public policy, and more (APA, 2019a; Lott & Bullock, 2007).

Socioeconomic Status Language Guide

Classism shows up in our language in many ways. Below are several examples to stray away from and their suggested alternatives.


Terms to Avoid

Suggested Alternatives


The poor 

low-class people 

poor people

People whose incomes are below the federal poverty threshold 


People who self-reported incomes were in the lowest income bracket

Many people find the terms “low-class” and “poor” pejorative. 


Use person-first language instead. 


Define income brackets and levels, if possible.

Inner city, ghetto




Avoid terms that describe people who come from urban environments/cities negatively, as it assumes these environments are not good places to live. 

Working poor

Hardworking, working hard to make ends meet


“Working poor” has negative associations with it and blames low-income people on themselves.

The hungry

Food insecurity, food poverty, and hunger

Describe their lack of access to food, rather than defining people by their traits.

Homeless people or “the homeless”

People experiencing homelessness


Unhoused people



The term “homeless” is increasingly used in a way where it implies someone is dangerous or devious, and becomes inseparable from a “toxic narrative” that blames and demonizes unhoused people.


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