The War against the Poor: The Underclass and Antipoverty Policy

The War against the Poor: The Underclass and Antipoverty Policy

The War against the Poor: The Underclass and Antipoverty Policy

The War against the Poor: The Underclass and Antipoverty Policy


In his withering dissection of the origins and misuse of the term "underclass" to stereotype and stigmatize the poor, Herbert J. Gans shows how this ubiquitous label has relegated a wide variety of people- welfare recipients, the working poor, teenage mothers, drug addicts, the homeless, and others- to a single condemned class, feared and despised by the rest of society. Probing the deep psychological, social, and political reasons why Americans seek to indict millions of poor citizens as "undeserving," Gans calls for a cease-fire in the undeclared war against the poor. He concludes with a set of innovative, job-centered policy proposals and a multifaceted educational plan to stop the endless flow of new recruits into America's untouchable caste.


For much of its history, America has been waging war against many of its poor people. It is a war waged with a variety of weapons, such as withholding the opportunities for decent jobs, schools, housing, and the necessities required for a modest version of the American way of life. Sometimes it is also a killing war, but more often, the war kills poor people's spirit and morale, and otherwise adds to the miseries resulting from sheer lack of money.

Since the beginning of the 1980s, the war against the poor has escalated, and it bids to escalate further. Unknowingly repeating old battle strategies, the leaders of this war continue to decrease the welfare benefits that go to poor mothers unable to work or find jobs, threaten to end welfare altogether, increase the punitive conditions under which all help is given, and fan further the hatred of the poor among the more fortunate classes.

Even so, the war against the poor could spread to members of these classes in the future. As more well-paying and secure jobs disappear from the American economy, many Americans will not find new ones, until an ever larger number of such workers, or their children, slide slowly but surely into poverty themselves.

This book reports especially on a part of the war that has not yet received much attention: the war of words--or of pejorative labels--that stereotype, stigmatize, and harass the poor by questioning their morality and their values. The labeling of the poor as moral inferiors, which has also been stepped up in the last fifteen years, blames them falsely for the ills of the American society and economy, reinforces their mistreatment, increases their misery, and further discourages their moving out of poverty.

The generic label is "undeserving," the undeserving poor being thought so morally deficient that they are not deserving of any economic or other assistance. Furthermore, their being labeled undeserving reduces their . . .

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