Underclass


Underclass

The contemporary concept of the underclass is a sanitized term for what was known in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as the undeserving poor, and may have been coined by American sociologist and anthropologist Oscar Lewis in 1961. The underclass, according to Lewis, has "a strong present-time orientation, with little ability to delay gratification and plan for the future" (p. xxvi). The term was also used by Gunnar Myrdal in 1962, before the usage came into wide circulation in the early 1980s, following Ken Auletta`s (1982) use of the term in three articles published in The New Yorker in 1981, and in book form a year later. Auletta refers to the underclass as a group who do not "assimilate" (1982: xvi quoted in Morris, 1994: 81), identifying four main groups:

*the passive poor, usually long term welfare recipients;
*the hostile street criminal, drop-outs, low-class prostitutes, and drug addicts;
*the hustlers, dependent on the underground economy, but rarely involved in violent crime;
*the traumatised drunks, drifters, homeless bag ladies, and released mental patients.
Karl Marx referred to a group he called the lumpenproletariat. He described this group as:

:This scum of the depraved elements of all classes ... decayed roués, vagabonds, discharged soldiers, discharged jailbirds, escaped galley slaves, swindlers, mountebanks, lazzaroni, pickpockets, tricksters, gamblers, brothel keepers, tinkers, beggars, the dangerous class, the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of the old society." [Marx and Engels, 1950, p. 267.]

Many other terms have been used to "describe a section of society which is seen to exist within and yet at the base of the working class." [Mann, 1992, p. 2.]

United States

In the United States the term is used by certain sociologists such as Dennis Gilbert to described the most disenfranchised socio-economic demographic with the least access to scarce resources. The American underclass is estimated to constitute roughly 12% of households. Incomes are far below the median and often fall below the poverty line. The vast majority of persons in this class are, for a variety of reasons, not active participants in the labor force. The underclass is, therefore, distinguished from other social classes by its reliance on government transfers. Only a few members of this class have graduated from high school.cite book | last = Gilbert | first = Dennis | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = 1998 | title = The American Class Structure | publisher = Wadsworth Publishing | location = New York | id = 0-534-50520-1] cite book | last = Williams | first = Brian | authorlink = | coauthors = Stacey C. Sawyer, Carl M. Wahlstrom | year = 2005 | title = Marriages, Families & Intimate Relationships | publisher = Pearson | location = Boston, MA | id = 0-205-36674-0] Further discussion of the social implications of labeling the underclass can be found in Herbert J. Gans' book The War Against the Poor.

ee also

*Social class
*Social exclusion
*Social hierarchy
*Social inequality
*Social mobility
*Reserve army of labour
*Overclass
*Subculture

References


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • underclass — UK US /ˈʌndəˌklɑːs/ noun [C, usually singular] ECONOMICS ► the poorest people in a society, especially when discussing their lack of opportunities to find work: »Letting guest workers into America doesn t create an underclass. »The nation needs… …   Financial and business terms

  • underclass — (n.) subordinate social class, 1918, from UNDER (Cf. under) + CLASS (Cf. class) (n.). A loan translation of Swedish underklass …   Etymology dictionary

  • underclass — ► NOUN ▪ the lowest social class in a country or community, consisting of the poor and unemployed …   English terms dictionary

  • underclass — ☆ underclass [un′dər klas΄ ] n. the socioeconomic class with incomes below subsistence level, including esp. the underprivileged …   English World dictionary

  • underclass — The extensive and acrimonious sociological debate about the underclass stems from a predominantly American literature which addresses two phenomena that are argued to be related: namely, high levels of youth unemployment, and an increasing… …   Dictionary of sociology

  • underclass — [[t]ʌ̱ndə(r)klɑːs, klæs[/t]] underclasses N COUNT: usu sing A country s underclass consists of those members of its population who are poor, and who have little chance of improving their situation. The basic problems of the inner city underclass… …   English dictionary

  • underclass — UK [ˈʌndə(r)ˌklɑːs] / US [ˈʌndərˌklæs] noun [countable, usually singular] Word forms underclass : singular underclass plural underclasses the lowest social class in a society, consisting of people who are the poorest and have the least power …   English dictionary

  • underclass — un|der|class [ˈʌndəkla:s US dərklæs] n [singular] the lowest social class, consisting of people who are very poor and who are not likely to be able to improve their situation ▪ an urban underclass, who have limited access to health care →↑social… …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • underclass — /ˈʌndəklas/ (say unduhklahs) noun a social class consisting of impoverished people of low social status who by the nature of their circumstances adopt the values of a subculture which rejects the mainstream way of life: *the social pool of the… …   Australian English dictionary

  • underclass — noun Date: 1918 the lowest social stratum usually made up of disadvantaged minority groups …   New Collegiate Dictionary


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