Latinos and Discrimination
JOAN MOORE AND
It is clear that there is as yet no consensus about the term "underclass" or about the concepts behind it. The debate about whether the American urban poor can be characterized as an "underclass" is part of a larger debate about urban poverty in the United States. The terms of that debate have shifted significantly over the past two decades. In the sixties and seventies the debate focused on matters of labor-supply resources, tax rates, and equal opportunity. In the eighties, the emphasis shifted to dependency and joblessness, with emphasis on their radiating consequences ( Ellwood 1988). Currently, the debate reflects a deep concern about a group of people who manifest a distinctive set of values, attitudes, beliefs, norms, and behaviors ( Ricketts and Sawhill 1988; Morris 1989; Wilson 1987).
The underclass debate can also be seen as an extension of the debate about who is responsible for the condition of the poor--the individual or society? Is persistent poverty caused by behavioral pathology or the economic structure? . . .
No matter what the details, when one examines the history of the term among sociologists, it is clear that Wilson 1987 work seriously jolted the somewhat chaotic and unfocused study of poverty in the United States. He described sharply increased rates of what he called "pathology" in Chicago's black ghettos. By this, Wilson referred specifically to female headship, declining marriage rates, illegitimate births, welfare dependency, school dropouts, and youth crime. The changes in the communities he examined were so dramatic that he considered them something quite new.
Two of the causes of this new poverty were particularly important, and his work shifted the terms of the debate in two respects. First, Wilson argued effectively that dramatic increases in joblessness and long-term poverty in the inner city were a result of major economic shifts--economic restructuring. "Restructuring" referred to changes in the global economy that led to deindustrialization, loss and relocation of jobs, and a decline in the number of middle-level jobs--a polarization of the labor market. Second, he further fueled the debate about the causes and consequences of persistent poverty by introducing two neighborhood- level factors into the discussion. He argued that the out-migration of middle- and