Sociology Index


Underclass is a term similar to Karl Marx's concept of Lumpenproletariat. A group that is not in a regular economic or social relationship with the rest of the community. Underclass refers to the chronically unemployed, those who live on the proceeds of petty crime, panhandlers, or bag ladies.

American sociologists use this term since a large underclass is thought to pose a threat to the stability of society because they are not adequately connected to the institutional and cultural regulation that is experienced by most social members.

Myths about Race and the Underclass - Concentrated Poverty and "Underclass" Behaviors 
Yvette Alex-Assensoh, Indiana University-Bloomington 
Urban Affairs Review, Vol. 31, No. 1, 3-19 (1995)
The prevalent view held by both academics and policy makers is that underclass behaviors are predominantly characteristic of African-American communities.

Concern about such behaviors has expanded partly because the underclass phenomenon has diffused down the urban hierarchy to small- and medium-sized cities. This article demonstrates that in two areas of concentrated poverty in Columbus, Ohio, so-called underclass behaviors are not associated with race. Data from a study of neighborhood poverty and political participation in those areas are used to show that whites and African-Americans exhibit statistically indistinguishable and substantively similar levels of such behaviors.

Hispanic Women in Texas: An Increasing Portion of the Underclass 
Juanita M. Firestone, Richard J. Harris, University of Texas at San Antonio 
Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, Vol. 16, No. 2, 176-185 (1994)
This research analyzes data from the 1980 and 1990 Current Population Survey files and attempts to determine whether human capital or cultural explanations provide a viable framework for understanding the experience of Hispanic women in Texas.

Latinos, Poverty, and the Underclass: A New Agenda for Research 
Douglas S. Massey, University of Chicago 
Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, Vol. 15, No. 4 (1993) SAGE Publications.
In the 1980s scholars interested in Hispanic issues sought to advance research by ensuring that Latinos were included in the debate on the urban underclass. It is argued that Blacks and Latinos differ in such fundamental ways that the underclass model, which was developed primarily to describe the situation of inner-city Blacks, cannot legitimately be employed to understand the social problems and economic problems of contemporary Hispanic groups in the United States.

Thinking about the `Underclass': Towards a Political Economy of Policing 
CHRIS CROWTHER, Sheffield Hallam University, UK 
Theoretical Criminology, Vol. 4, No. 2, 149-167 (2000)
This article critically examines the relevance of behavioural and structural versions of the `underclass' and argues that this distinction should be deepened in order to understand the policing of this population. This task is performed in the context of a society in transition from a Keynesian Welfare State (KWS) to a Schumpeterian Workfare State (SWS). The jobs that are created by the resultant changes in the labour market are not likely to be filled by the underclass who will be doubly disadvantaged by the subordination of social policy to economic policy and crimefighting. Also, as a consequence of neo-liberal-led reforms of the police service the organization no longer has the resources and government support to control and manage the 'underclass'.

The ‘chav’ phenomenon: Consumption, media and the construction of a new underclass 
Keith Hayward, University of Kent, UK, Majid Yar, University of Kent, UK,
Crime, Media, Culture, Vol. 2, No. 1, 9-28 (2006)
This article argues that the decline of the ‘underclass’ discourse in the UK, and the rise of the ‘chav’, are not unconnected. We contend that there are numerous homologies between the meaning content, objects and tenor of these two terms, and suggest that the ‘chav’ represents a popular reconfiguration of the underclass idea. We argue that the discourse of the underclass turned crucially upon a (perceived or real) pathology in the working classes’ relations to production and socially productive labour. Its emergent successor, the concept of the ‘chav’, is in contrast oriented to purportedly pathological class dispositions in relation to the sphere of consumption.

The Family and the Urban Underclass - An Integrative Framework 
ROBERT F. KELLY, Wayne State University - Journal of Family Issues, Vol. 6, No. 2, 159-184 (1985)
The major innovation of the concept of an underclass is that it treats dependent welfare women and poor urban male criminals as a single social group. A major source of the concept is an implicit synthesis of two bodies of economic theory and research—namely, human capital and dual labor market theory. This synthesis is best exemplified by the National Supported Work Demonstration. A major limitation of the synthesis is that it lacks a clear articulation of the influence of the family in underclass behavior. A theoretical framework is presented here that integrates family theory with the synthesized economic theory of the underclass. The integrated framework is used to examine the impact of current and proposed child support enforcement practices on the underclass.

Urban Industrial Transition and the Underclass 
JOHN D. KASARDA, Department of Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 
The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 501, No. 1, 26-47 (1989)
Major U.S. cities have transformed industrially from centers of goods processing to centers of information processing. Concurrently, the demand for poorly educated labor has declined markedly and the demand for labor with higher education has increased substantially. Despite improvements in their overall educational attainment, a great majority still have very little schooling and therefore have been unable to gain significant access to new urban growth industries. Underclass blacks, with exceptionally high rates of school dropout, are especially handicapped. Whereas jobs requiring only limited education have been rapidly increasing in the suburbs, poorly educated blacks remain residentially constrained in inner-city housing. Within underclass neighborhoods, few households have private vehicles, which are shown to be increasingly necessary for employment in dispersing metropolitan economies. Reasons for the success of recent Asian immigrants in transforming cities are considered, and policies are suggested to rekindle social mobility in the black underclass.

Puerto Ricans and the Underclass Debate - MARTA TIENDA, University of Chicago - The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 501, No. 1, 105-119 (1989)
This article uses data from the Current Population Surveys of 1975, 1980, and 1985 and the 1980 census of population to investigate why the economic status of Puerto Ricans has declined more than that of Mexicans and Cubans.

Employment Histories and the Concept of the Underclass - Lydia Morris, Sarah Irwin - Sociology, Vol. 26, No. 3, 401-420 (1992).
This paper reports on research carried out in Hartlepool. By comparing the work histories and characterising features of these three groupings the paper sets out to explore the theoretical and empirical validity of the notion of the underclass, focusing specifically on two competing definitions: nonparticipation in the labour market, and systematic disadvantage in the labour market. 
The data reveal a distinctive pattern of broken employment for the second of the three groups identified above. Those affected are thus located between the two contrasting positions of long-term unemployment, and relatively secure employment. The existence of such a grouping is argued to undermine a definition of an underclass purely in terms of unemployment.

About and Beyond the `Underclass': Some Notes on Influences of Social Climate on British Sociology Today - John Westergaard - Sociology, Vol. 26, No. 4, 575-587 (1992)
The concern of this article is with the influence of fashion and social climate on social speculation. The `underclass' notion is a nice example of fashion.

Polarisation, Underclass and the Welfare State - Bill Jordan, Exeter University - Marcus Redley, University of Surrey 
Work, Employment & Society, Vol. 8, No. 2, 153-176 (1994)
The authors argue that too little scholarly attention has been given to the divergence between better-off and poor people's practices over work and welfare. This dimension of polarization - the way higher-income couples orientate towards property, occupational and private welfare, and low-income couples towards means-tested benefits, in their employment decisions - has important implications, both for the underclass debate and for the future of the welfare state.

Urban housing and the role of 'underclass' processes: the case of Ireland 
Brian Nolan, Christopher T. Whelan, The Economic and Social Research Institute, Dublin 
Journal of European Social Policy, Vol. 10, No. 1, 5-21 (2000)
Rising levels of urban deprivation and a perception that poverty has become more concentrated in such areas and has taken on a qualitatively different character have provoked a variety of popular and academic responses. The potentially most fruitful set of hypotheses focuses on the unintended consequences of social change. A combination of weak labour force attachment and social isolation is perceived to lead to behavior and orientations that contribute to a vicious circle of deprivation. In examining the value of this conceptual framework in the Irish case we proceed by measuring directly the social-psychological factors which are hypothesized to mediate the 'underclass' process. A significantly higher level of poverty is found in urban public-sector tenant households. Controlling for the critical social-psychological factors we found that net effect was reduced by less than a quarter and concluded that the remaining effect is more plausibly attributed to the role of selection than to underclass processes.

The creation of a new underclass in China and its implications 
Dorothy J Solinger, Weatherhead East Asian Institute at Columbia University; School of Social Sciences, University of California,
Environment and Urbanization, Vol. 18, No.1 (2006) Environment and Urbanization
The emergence of a new urban underclass in China is a major challenge confronting the Communist Party, and its potential for fomenting instability has unnerved the Party.

The Underclass, 'Social Isolation' and 'Concentration Effects' 
The culture of poverty revisited - Andrew H. Maxwell, Department of Anthropology, Montclair State College 
Critique of Anthropology, Vol. 13, No. 3, 231-245 (1993)
It is said that these concepts refer to the community-level effects of economic restructuring in the United States. For this reason it is argued that such concepts differ from Oscar Lewis's 'culture of poverty' notion; they do not imply a self-perpetuating, autonomous cultural entity. In attempting to clarify this aspect of the discussion I will examine the conceptual foundations of Wilson's view of 'the underclass'.

Race and the Underclass.