Here is the full text of the essay we were discussing today. The excerpt used on the AP Language exam is the ninth paragraph, by my count (not including those one-line quotations). Here’s a quote from the first paragraph that might help illuminate things:
The want of money I here allude to is not altogether that such arises from absolute poverty – for where there is a downright absence of the common necessaries of life, this must be remedied by incessant hard labour, and the least we can receive in return is a supply of our daily wants – but that uncertain, casual, precarious mode of existence, in which the temptation to spend remains after the means are exhausted, the want of money joined with the hope and possibility of getting it, the intermediate state of difficulty and suspense between the last guinea or shilling and the next that we may have the good luck to encounter.
That last bit–“the intermediate state of difficulty and suspense between the last guinea or shilling and the next”–makes it pretty clear that he’s talking about the poor here, not just the middle class who would like to be holding a higher rung of the ladder.
Now obviously, you don’t have access to this when answering the prompt, so I’m not posting it for that purpose. But it might be reassuring to some of you that I’m not just throwing this out there as my opinion of what he might mean.