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Employment Policy, Community Development, and the Underclass


  • Dimitri B. Papadimitriou

    (The Jerome Levy Economics Institute)


The difficulties in achieving a consensus regarding the definition of the underclass cannot be minimized. The term was first coined by The New Yorker writer Ken Auletta (1982) who used it broadly to include individuals with "behavioral and income deficiencies." Other definitions have been advanced by the seminal works of William Julius Wilson (1987), Erol Ricketts and Isabel Sawhill (1986), Douglas Glasgow (1980), William Darity (1980), and finally Christopher Jencks (1992) who draws fine distinctions of the underclass by classifying its members into various subgroups, that is, impoverished underclass, jobless underclass, reproductive underclass, educational underclass and violent underclass. In this paper, I consider as members of the underclass, individuals residing in urban centers, mostly in inner city areas. Their neighborhoods experience concentrated poverty and joblessness, and violence, and lack community supporting institutions. Those individuals who are employed are "working poor" and their education is at the high- school level or below; and, a good number of them are single parents, either male or female heads of households. Finally, I include as members of the underclass, a significant fraction of the more 45% of children under 6 years of age and individuals under the age of 18, who live below the poverty line. Even though, only a fraction of those living in poverty reside in these neighborhoods --about 21 per cent of all persons and 34 per cent of blacks reside in inner city areas were below the poverty line n 1994-- escaping from there requires confronting and dealing with a plethora of insurmountable obstacles. It should be noted that the members of the underclass are not likely to include Jews, Irish or Italians (Duster 1995), nor are they only African-Americans. If it were only a "black problem," it would disregard the two-thirds of African-Americans who are not poor, and the two-thirds of the poor residing in inner city areas who are not black (Blank 1992). African- Americans are, however, overrepresented in the underclass. This paper focuses specifically on the issue of urban poverty and the changes in the urban-poor population, and relates these changes to changes in the economic and policy landscape that has eveolved over the last fifteen years. Policy lessons drawn from other industrialized countries are also reviewed. At the end, consideration is given to various proposals for public action to alleviate the problems of the underclass, including community development that can be achieved via a network of community development financial institutions.

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  • Dimitri B. Papadimitriou, 1998. "Employment Policy, Community Development, and the Underclass," Macroeconomics 9802016, EconWPA.
  • Handle: RePEc:wpa:wuwpma:9802016
    Note: Type of Document - Acrobat PDF; prepared on IBM PC ; to print on PostScript; pages: 26; figures: included

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    1. David M. Cutler & Lawrence F. Katz, 1991. "Macroeconomic Performance and the Disadvantaged," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 22(2), pages 1-74.
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    • E - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics

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