Pub. date: 2008 | Online Pub. Date: May 28, 2008 | DOI: 10.4135/9781412963930 | Print ISBN: 9781412941655 | Online ISBN: 9781412963930| Publisher:SAGE Publications, Inc.About this encyclopedia
Elijah Anderson & Jamie J. Fader
Over the past 2 decades, the urban underclass has become one of the most controversial topics in the social sciences. As a sociological construct, the notion of an underclass can be traced to Marx's lumpenpro-letariat , which he identified as occupying the lowest rung of the social hierarchy, beneath the working class. However, journalist Ken Auletta first popularized the term underclass in the early 1980s in writing about criminals, hustlers, and welfare dependents. This modern conceptualization involved two interlocking elements of the underclass: poverty and self-defeating or pathological behavior. One of the more controversial aspects of the “underclass debate” is whether the existence of this group was a new phenomenon or simply another term to describe the persistently poor. For William Julius Wilson, the underclass was the ideal way to characterize the emergence of a disenfranchised class of individuals resulting from changing labor market conditions in the late 1970s and ...