Laggards and Lushes: Images of the Poor
If the poverty programs, and the poor themselves, are surrounded by "constant crisis," if the poor are disliked ( Klebaner 1964), and if they are the recipients of the stigma and hostility of many citizens (for a review, see Grosskind 1987; Himmelfarb 1983; Cameron 1975; Fallows 1982; Martin and Zald 1981), then it must be because the poor engage central values in the American social system. It is for this reason, perhaps, that the poor threaten the nonpoor, evoking concerns and fears for which stigma is a solution.
One way to empirically examine the validity of these ideas is to ask a sample of people a general descriptive question about the poor, and examine the responses. The words and phrases such respondents use to describe the "lowest class" should thus be indicative of stigma and "threat." Further, we would expect the population at large to base their view on the sense of "fate control" respondents felt was involved ( Tropman and Strate 1983). For example, gender and race are not changeable. Illness and family crises are usually unpreventable, and old age ultimately affects everyone. Moral status, on the other hand, may be considered under the individual's control.
As people describe their feelings about the lowest classes, it seems that they are more likely to mention those items and characteristics which are alterable, like behavior, than those which the individual cannot control, like gender and race. Such an emphasis stresses the attribution of control to one's fate.