People in the service industry can make a lot of money. Depending on how much charm and experience a person has, combined with the venue, a waiter or a bartender can make just as much money as an engineer or a lawyer (of the non-partner variety). But we, as a society, don't think of waiters and bartenders as part of the same class as an engineer or a lawyer. A key component is missing. What is it?
Is it education? Well, there are plenty of waiters and bartenders out there with bachelor's degrees. There may even be a few of them toting master's as well. So that can't be it. Maybe it's the fact that most waiters and bartenders don't have college degrees. And, on average, waiters and bartenders do make less than engineers and lawyers.
Society looks down upon waiters and bartenders as a group. But what about individuals? Why do we also not give the same amount of credit to say, a bartender who can make low six figures as we do to the lawyer who makes a low six figure salary? Therein lies the rub.
When F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby, he painted high class society as divided between two distinct groups: the nouveau riche and the old money. The old money crowd had respectable family names. They could trace their lineage back to the patriots who fought in the Revolution. Their fortunes were accumulated from generation to generation through a variety of means. But it endured for a very long time.
The nouveau riche were a different group. America during the Roaring 20s was caught in transition between the 2nd Industrial Revolution and the post-industrial era. Great fortunes could be made and lost within a generation, as various technologies matured or were displaced. Rockefeller, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, those individuals whose names are synonymous with great wealth and patronage today built their entire fortune within their own lifetime.
As you can imagine, there were tensions between the old money and the new money. But, ultimately, there was intermingling. Old money families might have seen their fortunes erode while new money families, eager to ingratiate and insinuate themselves into the establishment, would marry into an older family. And this was not some new phenomenon. In the Middle Ages, rich merchants would marry into old aristocratic Houses, combining land, title, and wealth.
And this is why money is never viewed as endgame. People are searching for something more. They dream of dynasties. Of titles and lands handed down from generation to generation. Because money has always been viewed as something that could be wiped away in the blink of an eye. Its perceived transience has always been its downfall. Things that couldn't be taken away, that were concrete, such as land, castles, and titles (concrete in the sense that it couldn't be destroyed except by monarchical fiat), those were the things that people craved in the end. Money was simply a means to that end.
And although money is still power, the ability to "make" money was seen as a greater power. Lands generated tithes. Castles and titles compelled people to serve under you as serfs and vassals. Because as long as you had land, you could always generate money. Bankers and merchants were viewed with suspicion and wonder because they could generate money without land. But it was always viewed as more precarious. More risky.
So going back to the waiter/bartender question. The reason why we look down upon even the successful and high-earning waiters and bartenders is because we do not think they can continue generating money. Maybe their looks fade or their charms get dulled or stop working. Maybe people simply stop tipping well. Because their incomes are so dependent upon the whims and generosity of others, we think of their income as transitory. They can make money, but they have no perceived wealth.
But lawyers and engineers are always in demand. Their incomes are tied to things other than generosity or whimsy. People will always need lawyers to wade through the murky waters of government regulations and statutes. People will always need engineers to build things that make modern society possible. And so their income generation is viewed as more permanent. They have wealth and income.
But that perception is still flawed. Because you can be a lawyer or engineer, make a ton of money, and still be living paycheck to paycheck. And if for whatever reason you find yourself unemployed or out of work for an extended period of time, at that moment in time you're no better than that waiter/bartender.
The secret to wealth in modern society has been in our face this entire time. Wealth is financial assets. The only problem is, the vast majority of society still views finance as something bordering on sorcery. They don't trust it. But the knowledge to use finance to your advantage. To save and invest in financial assets. That is the modern equivalent of land and titles. The hallmark of class today is not about who you are or how much money you make, it's about how much money you save and the knowledge to invest your savings intelligently.