Urban Poverty and Defense Localism

Urban Poverty and Defense Localism

The politics of race and poverty in the United States presents something of a paradox. Throughout the past decade and a half, the nation has been obsessed with the urban minority poor. Fears about the growth of a separate, violent, and immoral culture in our nation’s cities appeared prominently in the popular media. At the same time, however, there was very little in the way of a sustained national response to the problems of the minority poor in cities. President Reagan’s “War on Drugs” quickly fizzled, initial enthusiasm for the 1988 reform of welfare was short lived, and specifically urban issues all but disappeared from the national agenda.

Underpinning this curious blend of attention and neglect were two prominent features of a new politics of race and poverty. The first was a spotlight on the “underclass,” conceived in behavioral terms and tied specifically to racial minorities, rather than a focus on the poor or the needy, more broadly defined. The second was a politics of “defensive localism,” which

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