underclass


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underclass

social groups that are located at the bottom of the occupational class schema in some models (Runciman, 1990) or outside it in others (D. Smith, Understanding the Underclass, 1992). In some definitions the underclass consists of individuals who are unemployed, living on welfare, or existing off criminal activity; in other definitions the underclass consists of family units who live off welfare.

The second definition has become particularly important for writers of the NEW RIGHT who have identified some single-parent families as being a core element to the underclass (Charles Murray, The Emerging British Underclass, 1990; N. Dennis and G. Erdos, The Family: Is it Just Another Lifestyle Choice, 1992). Both George Gilder (Wealth and Poverty, 1992) and Charles Murray have created structural versions of the underclass thesis rather than cultural versions. In their arguments, it is economically rational for members of the underclass to exist on welfare because they can receive more in welfare benefits than in low wages; thus the demand that welfare benefits be cut. Their identification of welfare as a cause of the underclass distinguishes current New Right theories of the underclass from the ‘culture of poverty’ argument of Oscar LEWIS in the 1960s or the ‘cycle of deprivation’ argument of the British Conservative politician Keith Joseph in the 1970s.

Liberal sociologists have also written on the emerging underclass. In the United States, William Julius Wilson (The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass and Public Policy, 1987) linked three key groups who were likely to be dependent on income support and therefore also members of the underclass – the long-term unemployed, unskilled workers in erratic employment and young single mothers. His argument is that the ‘marriageable pool’ of traditional bread-winning males is shrinking because of rising unemployment and rising crime in the urban areas of the US, particularly in the black urban areas, and in these areas women are left to be single mothers. Wilson has thus produced a liberal explanation of the rise of crime and rise of single parents in the US through rising unemployment.

Wilson's thesis has been the subject of an extensive research programme in the USA (see C. Jenks and P. Peterson, The Urban Underclass, 1991). Many of the researchers are committed to a liberal view of welfare provision. Thus, Jenks’ conclusion is that the concept of the underclass is unhelpful because the concept of classes is unhelpful; he argues that we should not over-correlate social problems. Charles Murray's response has been to argue that it is because of single mothers that the pool of marriageable men is shrinking – single mothers produce unemployed young men.

A recent study in the UK has sought to demonstrate the absence of a dependency culture among long-term claimants (H. Dean and P. Taylor-Gooby, 1992). However, this does not invalidate the entire underclass thesis, because of its wider structural basis. See also POVERTY, LUMPENPROLETARIAT, CYCLE OF DEPRIVATION, CULTURE OF POVERTY, GHETTO.

References in periodicals archive ?
Does it matter that there are some--albeit diminishing--economic links between working people and underclass households, or that underclass households pursue complex livelihood strategies?
Brand retorts: "The planet is being destroyed, we are creating an underclass, we are exploiting poor people all over the world, and the genuine, legitimate problems of the people are not being addressed by our political class.
In a live televised debate, Professor Richard Starkey, specialist in Tudor England and celebrity historian, offered an account of a white underclass that has "become black" in the context of a "violent, destructive and nihilistic gangster culture.
The overclass-underclass alliance, he said, had seized on a new strategy for strengthening itself: the importation of massive underclass reinforcements via unrestricted immigration of poor, unskilled Third Worlders from regions of low civilizational achievement--people bound to end up on the elites' clientage rolls in perpetuity.
He must put into place measures to encourage people to move from the underclass into the working class, whether by carrot or stick.
The rise of the underclass also explains why Labour turned a blind eye to the flood of immigrants now submerging the British way of life.
The study demonstrates that while these inner-city working-class or underclass families are highly literate, committed to their children's success and capable of concerted cultivation that generates cultural capital, they continue to be held in a place of failure and disadvantage due to cultural and contextual barriers encountered in the inner city setting.
I think we have a significant underclass who the authorities seldom mention because they don't know the answers to the problems they cause.
Life at the Bottom: The Worldview that Makes the Underclass, by Theodore Dalrymple, 256 pp, paperback, $16.
But the Black underclass is bigger than it's ever been.
They're either underclass families at their last stop before homelessness or hookers and their johns (Mrs.
The danger is that they will find themselves ghettoised into schools for the underclass where peer group pressure is not to achieve but to reject education and all that it can offer.