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Definitions and US-centrism[edit]

I think the accusations of racism and the US centrism are part of the same issue. The underclass is only mostly black in the US. When I use the word "underclass" as a British person, I'm referring to the poor who make their living off welfare and crime, who spend their money on luxuries, who have children out of wedlock, and so on; it is a moral, not racial distinction. They'd be mostly white in the UK. I see it used as a synonym for chavs.

I think the article needs to make it clear that while the word can sometimes have the implication, or even be a codeword for, race (especially in the US), that this is not necessarily what people mean by the term. That the connection to race often depends on the country, since in various countries various groups might tend to occupy different social strata. J1812 (talk) 15:08, 20 January 2015 (UTC)

A more international perspective would also note of a Muslim underclass in Paris and other cities on the Continent, perhaps an "indian" (non-european) underclass in Mexico City, Dalit and regional (e.g. Bihari) underclasses in Calcutta and other Indian cities, perhaps a racially undifferentiated underclass in Brazilian cities. Also a White underclass in rural parts of Appalachia and ethnic Russians, where again there is no racial component yet there is discrimination and class identity based on rural origins. LADave (talk) 00:07, 16 November 2016 (UTC)


The underclass don't work for a living, they scrounge, steal and swindle, working class people work for a living.

While it is true that underclass persons do not work, most are not scoundrels or criminals. Many are disabled and for one reason or another are not able to participate in the labor force. Sociologist Leonard Beeghley at the University of Florida actually made a point in stating that "suprisingly few use guns to alter their economic position." (Beeghley, 2004) Signaturebrendel 17:42, 13 June 2007 (UTC)
It all depends on which of the four groups of the underclass is being referred to.

However, disabled or not, the underclass does not work, so that should be reflected in the article. --Mender (talk) 22:33, 14 February 2009 (UTC)

Some underclass people work, mostly in unskilled, manual jobs. They often go from one low-paid, dead-end, unskilled, temporary job to another. Many have periods of unemployment between such jobs, but to make the blanket statement that underclass people do not work is incorrect. A person living in severe poverty who relies on welfare benefits as their job does not pay them enough money to live is underclass, and often categorised as such due to their welfare dependency and inability to fully fund their own living expenses. Gerhard Gruber (talk) 03:48, 9 October 2010 (UTC)
This statement is correct. Joblessness is not a necessary condition of the underclass. I added a quote by WJ Wilson on this page that includes "low-paying jobs" in the definition of the underclass. Joshseim (talk) 15:07, 29 September 2011 (UTC)

Popularized the term underclass?[edit]

I don't think so a quick google scholar search shows that there are MANY articles using this term in their title and text before Murray's book. futurebird 19:58, 28 October 2007 (UTC)

Ian Duncan Smith is a great believer in the 'undeserving poor', as one can see in every aspect of his benefit reforms bill in the UK at present. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 00:48, 10 June 2011 (UTC)

Gunnar Myrdal, a Swedish scholar writing in the early 1960s, is often cited as the first academic to use the term. Joshseim (talk) 16:51, 5 October 2011 (UTC)

Equating the Underclass with the Poor?[edit]

I'm writing in reference to the following statement included in the "Defining the Underclass" section, "The notion of a social underclass in contemporary American societies is widely disputed among social scientists and philosophers. The size of this underclass depends on how it is defined. Defined simply as the “Poor”, the underclass grew from 29.3 million people in 1980 to 36 million in 1997, with non-Hispanic white-poor dropping from 19.7 million to 16.5 million people, blacks growing from 8.6 to 9 million, and Hispanics growing from 3.5 to 9 million poor."

Who defines the underclass simply as the poor? The underclass concept is distinct from general notions of the "poor." I suggest the statement I quoted above be removed from this article unless somebody can cite a scholar or journalist who actually equates these terms. Joshseim (talk) 15:00, 29 September 2011 (UTC)

On a related topic, equating the underclass with the lumpenproletariat doesn't seem quite right either. Marx's original conception of lumpenproletariat conflates two related concepts: 1. the distinction between skilled and semi-skilled labor, and 2) the difference between politically aware are not politically aware workers. Members of the petite bourgeouisie who get demoted to working class are proletariat. Those who were born into the working class are lumpenproletariat. Or something like that. Since I'm not a Marxist, maybe we could get someone who is (and has actually studied Marx) to look at the article. Zyxwv99 (talk) 14:13, 5 June 2012 (UTC)

Advancing this Article[edit]


I'm a PhD student in the Department of Sociology at UC Berkeley. As part of my coursework, I will be editing and expanding this artice. My primary goal is to expand coverage of the "urban underclass." Below is a working list of readings that I intend to use in the coming months. I will continuously update this list. It is also my hope that fellow Wikipedians will share suggested readings in response to this discussion section.

a. Anderson, Elijah. 1990. Streetwise: Race, Class, and Change in an Urban Community. Chicago IL: The University of Chicago Press.

b. Anderson, Elijah. 1999. Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

c. Marks, Carole. 1991. “The Urban Underclass.” Annual Review of Sociology. 17:445-66.

d. Small, Mario Luis and Katherine Newman. 2001. “Urban Poverty After the Truly Disadvantaged: The Rediscovery of the Family, the Neighborhood, and Culture.” Annual Review of Sociology 27:23-45.

e. Wacquant, Loic. 2008. Urban Outcasts: A Comparative Sociology of Advanced Marginality. Malden, MA: Polity Press.

f. Wacquant, Loic L.D., and William Julius Wilson. 1989. “The Cost of Racial and Class Exclusion in the Inner City.” The Annals of the American Academy 501:8-25.

g. Wilson, William Julius. 1987. The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy. Chicago IL: The University of Chicago Press.

h. Wilson, William Julius and Robert Aponte. 1985. “Urban Poverty.” Annual Review of Sociology 11:231-58.

Joshseim (talk) 17:23, 3 October 2011 (UTC)

First Review[edit]

Hi Josh, I just completed a "first review" of this article, and I must say that I am quite impressed. I cannot really tell how much of the article was written by you and how much was written by others, but the overall article is very clear and well organized. Here are some specific comments that relate to the "first reviewer checklist" on our syllabus:

2. Lead section: The lead section could be elaborated upon a bit. Specifically, you should include something about the debate surrounding the term.
3. Jargon: The article is pretty sophisticated, but does a good job overall of avoiding jargon. One instance of jargon that I'd like to you define in the article (or just replace with simpler terminology) is "labor force attachment". Not everyone knows what this means.
4. Wikilinks: Great use of wikilinks!!!
6. Neutrality: The article seems pretty neutral, but there are a couple of moments where you talk about characteristics of the "underclass" as if they were universally agreed upon. Given the controversial nature of the term, I think it is important to explicitly tie everything you're saying to particular authors. You do this for the most part, but in some cases you do not.
7., 12., 13. Sources and references: You really seem to have a great grasp of the literature, and you do a great job of citing it.
8. Clarity: Like I said earlier, the article is very well written. Like I mentioned in point 6, making sure to tie each main idea to an author (or authors) will make the controversial nature of the term even clearer.
9. Spelling/grammar: I went through and corrected a few things. You might want to re-read the article to make sure I didn't miss anything. One thing I changed that you might not have wanted me to change was the word "deviancies" to "deviancy." The internet doesn't seem to think that "deviancies" is a word, but perhaps it is.
10. Categories: They look good to me!
15. "Educational Assignment" template: I went ahead and added it to the top of this talk page.

Ok, that's all for now. Please let me know if you have any questions. All in all, I was really impressed by your article!!

Best Wishes, Amanda

amcook (talk) 16:47, 28 October 2011 (UTC)

Second Review[edit]

Hi, Josh,

This is a really great article! I tried to add a lot of subtitles to your sections to help organize the thoughts. Please feel free to reword some of the categories or delete them altogether. I just found it easier to read and organize my thoughts once I added them. I made some minor editing changes, and I actually didn't change the content too much because I thought it was all pretty good. If you prefer not to have subtitles, I suggest you have clearer transitions between ideas and paragraphs. I can work with you to organize and revise your paragraphs (if you don't like the subtitles).

How comfortable do you feel with your Underclass and Journalism section? I think that was the only part that could potentially use more work, which I can definitely help you look for more resources if you think it's lacking in any way. Other than that, to be honest, I'm not really sure what else I could add to it! I am ready to nominate it for a Good Article Review (but I am a bit confused as to the timeline of that, according to the class). It is well-written and well-referenced!

Here's my ranking (1-5): trustworthy = 5, complete = 4/5, well-written = 5, and objective = 5

Great job, again! Aixle12 (talk) 09:18, 14 November 2011 (UTC)

Recent Addition to Underclass Definition[edit]

[Below is a recent addition I made to the defining the underclass section. I may include some of Ken Auletta's notions soon. Please respond with directions to other authors/readings with general conceptions of the underclass. I am happy to review and integrate other definitions.]

Erik Olin Wright defines the underclass as a “category of social agents who are economically oppressed but not consistently exploited within a given class system.”[3] The underclass occupies the lowest possible rung on a class ladder, below the working class. According to Wright, the underclass are oppressed because they are generally denied access to the labor market, and thus they are “not consistently exploited” because the opportunity for their economic exploitation is minimal. In other words, unlike the working class, which is routinely exploited for their labor power, the underclass generally does not hold the labor power worthy of exploitation. Wright argues,

“The material interests of the wealthy and privileged segments of American society would be better served if these people simply disappeared…The alternative, then, is to build prisons, to cordon off the zones of cities in which the underclass live. In such a situation the main potential power of the underclass against their oppressors comes from their capacity to disrupt the sphere of consumption, especially through crime and other forms of violence, not their capacity to disrupt production their control over labor.” [4]

This quote partly concerns the spaces and locations for the underclass. The underclass generally occupies specific zones in the city. Thus, the notion of an underclass is popular in urban sociology, and particularly in accounts of urban poverty. The term “underclass” and the phrase “urban underclass” are, for the most part, used interchangeably.[5] Studies concerning the post-civil rights African American ghetto often include a discussion of the urban underclass. Many writings concerning the underclass, particularly in America, are urban-focused.

William Julius Wilson’s 1978 book, The Declining Significance of Race[6], and his 1987 book, The Truly Disadvantaged[7], are popular analyses of the black urban underclass. Wilson defines the underclass as “a massive population at the very bottom of the social ladder plagued by poor education and low-paying jobs." [8]

Elijah Anderson’s, 1990 book, Streetwise[9], employs ethnographic methods to study a gentrifying neighborhood, “The Village” (pseudonym), bordering a black ghetto, “Northton” (pseudonym), in an American city. Anderson provides the following description of the underclass in this ghetto,

“The underclass of Northton is made up of people who have failed to keep up with their brethren, both in employment and sociability. Essentially they can be seen as victims of the economic and social system. They make up the unemployed, the underskilled, and the poorly educated, even though some hold high-school diplomas. Many are intelligent, but they are demoralized by racism and the wall of social resistance facing them. In this context they loose perspective and lack an outlook and sensibility that would allow them to negotiate the wider system of employment and society in general.” [10]

Joshseim (talk) 17:38, 3 October 2011 (UTC)

Underclass and Journalism Section[edit]

[I have added the following section concerning American journalists' use of the term "underclass." The academic literature on the underclass, particularly by critics of the urban underclass terminology, often point to journalistic accounts. The Time Magazine article I reference seems to be the most frequently citied pop media illustration of the underclass. However, this section is in clear need of expansion. I encourage fellow wikipedians to summarize and cite other newspaper or newsmagazine articles on this topic. Also, I have thumbnail image for the cover of this Time Magazine issue, but unfortunately, due to copyright issues, I cannot post it without Time's permission.].

Throughout the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, the term "underclass" was also employed by American journalists. Most notably, a 1977 Time Magazine cover story titled, “The American Underclass” describes a population of Americans “removed the American dream.” According to this article, members of the underclass face an absence of decent jobs, welfare dependency, racism, and other barriers to social mobility. An early passage from the article details the underclass term as a

“common description of people who are seen to be stuck more or less permanently at the bottom, removed from the American dream. Though its members come from all races and live in many places, the underclass is made up mostly of impoverished urban blacks, who still suffer from the heritage of slavery and discrimination. The universe of the underclass is often a junk heap of rotting housing, broken furniture, crummy food, alcohol and drugs. The underclass has been doubly left behind: by the well-to-do majority and by the many blacks and Hispanics who have struggled up to the middle class, or who remain poor but can see a better day for themselves or their children. Its members are victims and victimizers in the culture of the street hustle, the quick fix, the rip-off and, not least, violent crime.”[24] Joshseim (talk) 13:36, 6 October 2011 (UTC)

Critiques of the Underclass Concept Section[edit]

[I recently added a new section - "Critiques of the Underclass Concept." Please help me develop this subsection by expanding the mentioned critiques. Also, I'm thinking that it may be wise to include a section before this one outlining the politicization of the underclass. In other words, we could briefly compare and contrast how the political left and the political right have traditionally employed the term "underclass."]

Following the popularization of the underclass concept in both academic and journalistic writings, some academics began overtly critiquing underclass terminology. Those in opposition to the underclass concept generally argue that the word “underclass” has become a homogenizing term that simplifies a heterogeneous group on the one hand, and a derogatory term that demonizes the urban poor on the other hand.[25] [26] Also, many who counter the underclass notion suggest that “underclass” has been transformed into a code word to refer to poor inner-city blacks.[27] For example, Hilary Silver highlights a moment when David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the KKK, campaigned for Louisiana Governor by complaining about the “welfare underclass.”[28] The underclass concept has been politicized, with those from the political left arguing that joblessness and insufficient welfare gives rise the underclass while the political right employ the underclass term to refer to welfare dependency and moral decline.[29] Many sociologists suggest that this latter rhetoric – the right-wing perspective – became dominant in mainstream accounts of the underclass during the later decades of the twentieth-century.[30]

Herbert Gans is one of the most vocal critics of the underclass concept. Gans suggests that American journalists, inspired partly by academic writings on the “culture of poverty,” reframed “underclass” from a structural term (i.e., defining the underclass in reference to conditions of social structure) into a behavioral term (i.e., defining the underclass in reference to rational choice and/or in reference to a subculture of poverty).[31] Gans suggests that the word “underclass” has become synonymous with impoverished blacks who behave in criminal, deviant, or “just non-middle-class ways.” [32]

Loïc Wacquant deploys a relatively similar critique by arguing that “underclass” has become a blanket term that frames urban blacks as behaviorally and culturally deviant.[33] Wacquant notes that underclass status is imposed on urban blacks from outside and above them (e.g., by journalists, politicians, and academics), stating that “underclass” is a derogatory and “a negative label that nobody claims or invokes except to pin it on to others.”[34] And, although the underclass concepts is homogenizing, Wacquant argues that underclass imagery differentiates on gender lines, with the underclass male being depicted as a violent “gang banger,” a physical threat to public safety, and the underclass female being generalized as “welfare mother”(also see welfare queen), a “moral assault on American values.” [35]

These charges against underclass terminology have motivated replacement terms. For example, William Julius Wilson, sympathetic to criticisms brought against underclass terminology (particularly those criticisms posited by Gans), begins to replace his use of the term underclass with “ghetto poor” during the early 1990s.[36] For Wilson this is simply a replacement in terminology in an attempt to revamp the framing of inner-city poverty as being structurally rooted. He states, “I will substitute the term ‘ghetto poor’ for the term ‘underclass’ and hope that I will not lose any of the subtle theoretical meaning that the latter term has had in my writings.”[37] Gans also suggests replacing underclass terminology, but instead of “ghetto poor” he suggests the term “undercaste."[38] Unlike Wilson’s replacement, Gans is not simply calling for a replacement term, but a revised concept altogether. For Gans, the position of the so-called “underclass” is better-suited for paradigms of caste stratification than class stratification. He conceptualizes the undercaste as “a population of such low status as to be shunned by the rest of the society, with opportunities for contact with others of higher status and upward mobility even more limited than those of the people today described as an underclass.”[39] In closing this conception, Gans admits hesitation in advancing a notion of undercaste – an other umbrella term “open to anyone who wishes to place new meaning, or a variety of stereotypes, accusations and stigmas under it” – but argues that undercaste is nevertheless a suitable term worthy of replacing the politically charged language of the underclass.[40] Joshseim (talk) 17:50, 7 October 2011 (UTC)

Critique of the Underclass Characteristics section[edit]

The danger of this section is fairly clear after the projects of infamous regimes in history. We must keep the demographic to its defining factors only. Anything beyond that is classism - arguably even eugenics.

Perhaps the following could be surmised more wisely: Much of these behaviors are identified by their consequences, such as the high number of teen and out of wed-lock births and the overrepresentation of the underclass in U.S. prisons and jails.[33][34]

A rational man will look at the statement "overrepresentation of the underclass in U.S. prisons and jails" and consider the possibility that it's precisely because they are underclass that the governments have incarcerated many of them.

The other thing: Race is mentioned far too often here. Neither black people, nor white people are poor. Poor people are poor, and you don't need me to remind you that more white people than black people are below the poverty line in the United States. On top of that, focusing so much on "black people" makes this a very Americentric article. Classism is worldwide, so lets keep race out of it.

~The Underclass~ — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 18:44, 5 November 2011 (UTC)

Thanks for your comments. Please clarify the following statement, "The danger of this section is fairly clear after the projects of infamous regimes in history. We must keep the demographic to its defining factors only. Anything beyond that is classism - arguably even eugenics." This sounds fancy, but it doesn't hold much weight unless you expand your point. Also, your comments on incarceration are confusing. It is true that many academics define the underclass as disproportionately criminal, and thus when making this case they often turn to arrest and incarceration statistics. Your "rational man" point doesn't seem very rational. Wouldn't the standard conclusion be that there is an overrepresentation of the underclass in correctional facilities because the underclass is more criminal? This is a popular argument made by those who embrace a behavior-centered definition of the underclass. You are correct that race is mentioned frequently in this article. That is because much of the literature on the underclass is US focused (in fact, the term "underclass" was initially employed to explain US poverty). This is an "Americentric article" because the underclass concept is itself "Americentric." You are correct that you do not need to remind me that the there is a larger frequency of white Americans below the poverty line than black Americans. However, proportionately (i.e., per 100,000 within each race category), there are more blacks below the poverty line than whites. The underclass is arguably a race-focused concept (see the final section in this article). Lastly, this is an article on the underclass - specifically as an academic and journalistic concept. This is not an an article on classism. Your comments are appreciated. Joshseim (talk) 15:44, 7 November 2011 (UTC)

Potential Causes and Solutions Section[edit]

The section "Potential Causes and Solutions" needs to be updated with more diverse opinions (I agree with the neutrality dispute posted on the article). As of right now, only Wilson is referenced as detailing the "causes" of the underclass. It may be a good idea to survey a variety of proposed solutions from both the Left and the Right (e.g., deindustrialization, outsourcing, welfare dependency, segregation, permissive governance, etc.) and then review policy suggestions. Also, the Wilson discussion in this section seems way too long - maybe several of these details can be transferred to the already existing article on Wilson's work.

My reading on the underclass tells me that there are essentially two basic social policy suggestions: expand the welfare state's reach to the underclass or reduce/discipline an already too large and too permissive welfare state. I'm sure there are are also fiscal and economic policy issues to highlight. Any thoughts? Also, does expanding on this section on potential causes and solutions run the risk of bloating this article? Maybe this should be a separate page, since the central focus of this article seems to be on conceptualizing the underclass. Joshseim (talk) 16:55, 21 October 2011 (UTC)

One of the reasons the conservative parties want to 'reduce' the welfare state is the leaky bucket issue. So for every 100 dollars the government is given, that 'bucket of bucks' is used to pay administrators and other fee's and the like. So instead of the 100 dollars going directly to the underclass, it is syphoned out and only a percentage ends up going toward welfare. There are mulitiple sources expanding on this issue.P0PP4B34R732 (talk) 17:02, 21 October 2011 (UTC)
Interesting. So is this a general criticism of funding inefficient bureaucracies or are these critiques claiming that they system is corrupt? Could you point to some specific articles or books that highlight the points you make? In developing this article, it may be a good idea to also include the Left and Right debates concerning block grant welfare versus entitlement welfare. Your comment sounds semi-related to this. Thanks for the input! Joshseim (talk) 15:57, 28 October 2011 (UTC)

Too US-centric[edit]

I didn't read all of this article, but the first few pages are almost completely about the United States. It needs to be expanded to include other nations (or at the very least other English-speaking countries). — Preceding unsigned comment added by SaintDaveUK (talkcontribs) 12:21, 27 February 2013 (UTC)

If it's limited to English-speaking countries, it would miss the Muslim underclass in Paris and other cities on the Continent, underclasses in India based on caste and also regional origins (e.g. Bihar), underclasses in Latin America based on indigenous ethnic groups, Russian urban underclasses based on rural origins and not having official permission to live in cities (and apparently a similar situation in China), perhaps a lingering distinction between East and West Germans, Southerners and Sicilians in Italy, etc. Surely there are insights to be gained about the phenomenon in the U.S. by considering overseas examples. LADave (talk) 00:16, 16 November 2016 (UTC)