Ever since Marx’s musings about the lumpenproletariat, the “underclass” has unnerved the left. Members of an underclass rarely behave in a manner leftists consider politically appropriate to their condition, let alone a manner that invites sympathy from a broader public. To be in the underclass, almost by definition, is to be unkempt, unmotivated, unorganized, and, by inference, unworthy. As the beloved Mike Harrington used to quote Dorothy Day, the poor are poor not only in money.
Now, in late twentieth-century America, the new growth of an underclass again has troubling, double-edged implications. On the one hand, it suggests the persistent failure of our market economy to spread wealth and opportunity evenly a...
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