A lot of protesters, pundits, and progressive liberals are making a big stink about "The 1%" vs. "The 99%" or "The rich" and "The Rest of Us", but the simple truth is that we are a society of shades of gray rather than simple black and white. I see our socio-economic system broken down into "strata" of the rich, professionals, the middle class, the working class, the poor, unemployed youth, and "the rest."
At the top of the heap we do have the "super rich" who either don't work or if they do work it is despite the fact that they don't need to work to survive and thrive perfectly well without income from work.
Then we have the professionals, the elite workers who certainly take down hefty paychecks, but only because they work for it and have a significant investment in professional training. This includes executives, managers, doctors, lawyers, scientists, professors, accountants, engineers, elite sales people, etc. They commonly have a graduate degree of some sort, or at least a professionally-oriented undergraduate degree, although in rare cases exceptional individuals can do the "Horatio Alger" thing. Even today, we have college dropouts that created monster successes such as YouTube and FaceBook, not to mention Microsoft and Apple.
Then we have the Middle Class. Technically many of the professionals are part of the middle class as well, at least from the perspective of raw income level, but the bulk of the Middle Class are the workers who have an undergraduate college degree but not necessarily one that is strictly professional in nature. They may have only a liberal arts degree or a degree from a community college. They have jobs that have some degree of complexity and frequently require creative problem solving or significant people skills. They are typically, but not necessarily white collar, office workers. This would include many teachers, supervisors, lab technicians, sales people, etc. Some teachers may have the advanced degrees or experience to qualify for the professional class, but that less typical.
Then we have the Working Class. Although some may have college degrees, that would be atypical. More typical is a high school education, possibly some vocational training, possibly a degree from a community college. Their work tends to be more structured and well-defined and much lower in complexity or complex in a very narrow technical sense such as a mechanic or manufacturing worker. I would put most soldiers in the working class, although some (e.g., senior officers and pilots) qualify as professionals as well.
In recent decades we have had a significant blurring of middle class and working class, if not a virtual merger of the two, but I think that was a mistake (distinction in education level, task complexity, and people skills) and accounts for a lot of the anxiety over the "decimation of the middle class." In particular, a lot of non-degreed manufacturing workers (among others) were considered middle class when in truth they were simply at the high-end of the working class. Now, especially over the past decade, we have seen that trend reverse so that we are getting a much cleaner delineation between the middle and working classes.
Then we have the poor. They are "chronically unemployed", either never having a job or alternating between short spurts of temporary employment and longer periods of unemployment. Limited education is a factor, but social problems tend to be the underlying cause of their poverty. They may truly want jobs but simply aren't able to surmount their social problems. Their main "hope" for employment is to gain assistance and perseverance at dealing with those social problems.
We also have a relatively new category of unemployed youth. They have the education, the degrees, to possibly even start out as entry-level professionals, but due to economic weakness and high unemployment they simply aren't "needed." Technically, one could assign each of them to the unemployed of the other relevant categories as if they could find work, but they are special in some sense, namely that they never had a chance and it is not for a lack of education or hard work or trying.
Finally we have "the rest", people for whom employment is not an option, including those in prison or jails, those in mental institutions, the disabled, the mentally ill, etc.
This is my overall model of our socio-economic system. I think it provides a more enlightening and productive framework than the 1% vs. 99% "model" which seems more focused on class warfare than enlightenment and productivity.
I'll reserve a discussion of "inequality" for another post.