Is There Really a New Poor?

Is There Really a New Poor?

A specter is haunting the imagination of commentators upon the contemporary scene, the specter of the “new poor.” In days of old (precise time conveniently unspecified), the cliché goes,

the immigrant saw poverty as a temporary state and looked forward to the day when he or his children could gain greater access to opportunity and financial resources. The poor of today are more inclined to regard poverty as a permanent way of life with little hope for themselves or their children. This change in the outlook of the poor can be explained by changes in the opportunity structure.

(From Louis Furman’s Poverty in America.)

You can fill in the rest for yourself easily enough: the poor of old had a culture; the poor today have only a culture of poverty. The poor once had political machines which protected them; now they have only social workers who spy upon them. And the crucial contrast, from which so much else follows: the poor were once on the lowest rungs of a ladder most of them could climb; the poor today are a fixed underclass, a permanent proletariat.