The 2016 election is about class. “For the first time in a generation, the working class is front and center in an election cycle,” one MarketWatch writer proclaimed. Commentators fret that Hillary Clinton has “lost” the working class and that Donald Trump has risen to prominence on the backs of “white trash.” (Never mind that Trump voters are, on average, wealthier than Clinton’s constituency.) Bernie Sanders even claimed he was a child of the working class. This demonstrates just how fuzzy this category is – though Sanders advocates for the working class, he has spent his career in politics, not manual or wage labor. There are lots of other misconceptions about class in America, too. Here, we debunk three:

The working class is white and male

Trump is often credited with engaging the working class. He “won with the working class voters the GOP forgot,” blared one Breitbart column. Meanwhile, “Hillary is losing white working Joes,” proclaimed the Toronto Star. Even Sanders argued that Democrats had allowed Republicans “to capture the votes of the majority of working people in this country.”

Of course, that’s true only if you ignore Asians, Latinos and African Americans. “Factor them into the population of ‘working people,’ ” Slate’s Jamelle Bouie writes, “and Democrats win that group, handily.”

This gets at something important: America has never housed some monolithic entity called the “working class.” As early as 1791, Alexander Hamilton argued that those best suited for factory work were women and children, which became the norm in textile mills until child labor laws were passed in the 20th century. Chinese workers built the Transcontinental Railroad; immigrants labored in the Ohio steel industry; whites and blacks toiled side by side in 20th-century Louisiana sawmills.

Today’s working class is even more diverse. A recent study found that more than half of all Hispanics and African Americans identify as working class. Additionally, about 50 percent of women see themselves as working class. Another report predicted that people of color will make up the majority of the American working class by 2032.

Most Americans don’t notice class differences

When surveyed, the vast majority of Americans say they are either middle class or working class. Indeed, political scientist Charles Murray found that Americans have traditionally refused to call themselves rich or poor.

This, he wrote in his book “Coming Apart,” “reflected a national conceit that had prevailed from the beginning of the nation: America didn’t have classes, or, to the extent that it did, Americans should act as if we didn’t.” The desire to erase class divisions goes all the way back to Benjamin Franklin, who believed that the North American continent would flatten classes into a “happy mediocrity.”

In truth, though, the United States has always been a stratified country. In Franklin’s time, people were sorted into three classes: “better,” “middling” and “meaner.” The people at the bottom were seen as coarse, vulgar, unfinished – composed of baser materials. Thomas Jefferson described the upper echelon of the Virginia planter class as pure-blood aristocrats; those who married beneath their station produced children who were “half-breeds.”

In the 19th century, Alabama lawyer and author Daniel Hundley defined class in ancestral terms, laying out seven different options. At the top, he placed an inherited aristocracy, descendants of royal Cavalier blood. At the bottom was “white trash,” heirs of the wretched poor dumped in the American colonies.

Today, record inequality divides the rich and the poor. Our country’s wealthy “1 percent” takes home 20 percent of all pretax income, double their 1980 share. For most middle-class and lower-income families, income has either stagnated or fallen. In short, Americans have not escaped class hierarchies, but reinvented them generation by generation.

Class mobility is uniquely American

Since America’s founding, its politicians have promised a society unbound by class. Jefferson once said that America had “no paupers.” Facing down Nikita Khrushchev in Moscow, Vice President Richard Nixon claimed in 1959 that the United States was a “classless society.” Even President Obama described the idea that each generation should be wealthier than the one before as a “founding precept” of the American Dream.

Indeed, Americans are more optimistic about their chances of getting ahead than people in other places. But in reality, it’s harder to rise above your class in the United States than in just about any other developed country; economic mobility is much more possible in places like Japan, Germany and Australia. Socialist author Michael Harrington captured this devastating reality in his 1962 book “The Other America”: The poor were poor, he wrote, because “they made the mistake of being born to the wrong parents.”