Lumping the Poor: What is the “Underclass”?

Lumping the Poor: What is the “Underclass”?

They are recidivist criminals, juvenile muggers,heroin addicts, adult winos in stumbling bottle gangs, welfare-dependent mothers of teen-age welfare mothers, homeless ex-mental patients, prostitutes and their pimps. Marx would have counted them among the lumpen proletariat, a class of dropouts from the capitalist stratification system. He also considered them dangerous because of their propensity to sell their criminal skills to the forces of reaction. Today the marginal poor who crowd urban slums and squalid “hollers” of rural America are likely to be thought of as our “underclass,” even when they are not criminals or social deviants. And while President Reagan makes a distinction between “deserving” and “undeserving” poor, his attacks on welfare state institutions make it clear that to be poor in America today is almost to be undeserving by definition.

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