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  Multiply deprived individuals — typically members of visible minority groups, and women and children in single-parent families — who experience a form of poverty from which there is virtually no escape (cf. cycle of poverty). Those facing long-term poverty usually lack higher education, skills that are in demand, and any apparent means of achieving upward mobility; most depend on social assistance for their livelihood. The underclass suffer from spatial mismatch, in that they live in areas of concentrated poverty with few job opportunities, but they are too poor to afford the transportation and childcare costs associated with finding work in other, more distant areas. These problems are compounded by discrimination against women and minorities in labour markets (see gender and geography).

While liberal and radical analysts emphasize the structural causes of poverty (the nature of capitalism, patriarchy and racism — Wilson, 1987; Gans, 1995), conservative authors concentrate on the personal characteristics and lifestyles of the disadvantaged (Auletta, 1982). This latter view usually draws upon the culture of poverty thesis outlined by Oscar Lewis (1959) in his anthropological studies of Latin American slums during the 1950s and 1960s. Lewis argued that the very poor share behavioural patterns that on the one hand allow them to cope with poverty, but on the other hand reproduce their disadvantage (e.g. a sceptical attitude towards education that is passed on to children). Because of the frequent association of the term underclass with this conservative view, many critical scholars refuse to use it.

The size of the underclass appears to be growing in North America and Europe as governments reduce the scope and universality of social programmes, and as mental health patients are deinstitutionalized. public policy in Western countries tends to oscillate between liberal /radical and conservative views on poverty and the underclass, sometimes targeting structural problems (e.g. the \'war on poverty\' of the 1970s in the US; the creation of the Social Exclusion Unit in 1997 in the UK: see social exclusion), while at other times attempting to change the behaviour of the poor by reducing welfare payments (\'welfare reform\' of the 1990s in the US) and/or providing additional funds to those who are entrepreneurially inclined. (DH)

References Auletta, K. 1982: The underclass. New York: Random House. Gans, H.J. 1995: The war against the poor: the \'underclass\' and antipoverty policy. New York: Basic Books. Lewis, O. 1959: Five families: Mexican case studies in the culture of poverty. New York: Basic Books. Wilson, W.J. 1987: The truly disadvantaged: the inner city, the underclass, and public policy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Suggested Reading Fainstein, N. 1993: Underclass: over class, race and inequality. Urban Affairs Quarterly 29: 340-7. Mingione, E., ed., 1996: Urban poverty and the underclass. Oxford: Blackwell.



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