The Undeserving and Deserving Poor Structure Essay

The Undeserving and Deserving Poor Structure Essay

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Having only recently permeated the public and political lexicon, there are few debates that evoke such passion as that of the underclass. Karl Marx tabled the idea of the lumpen proletariat, yet in the modern era, the concept did not take hold in Britain until 1989. Today, the debate focuses on whether frictional forces create a continuum of inequality, or whether a defined underclass does exist. The question asks if 'poor people' belong in a separate underclass, which is a vague definition. There will always be 'poor people', but whether or not this automatically qualifies them as a separate underclass is tenuous at best. Even the most radical proponents for the existence of the underclass stop short of declaring all those below the poverty line as 'the underclass'. This essay will analyse the arguments from either side of the debate, looking at definitional issues, the undeserving and deserving poor and structure versus agency. Overall, it will be argued that Murray’s classification does not hold for the majority and that frictional forces mean the poor are part of a continuum of inequality.
A key thinker, Charles Murray argues for the existence of a separate underclass on the basis of three social phenomena; extra marital births, crime and unemployment. The more prevalent these phenomena are, the larger the underclass. He argues that these individuals are of a separate class, having different social norms and what he classes as deviant behaviours (Murray, 1999). Murray’s key point is that the underclass find themselves in their position through their own choices, that those comprising the underclass are demarcated as such through their behaviour. He believes his evidence shows a quickly growing underclass in the US, and an emer...


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...or belong to a continuum of inequality, as it is both empirically based and objective. Additionally, it accepts that structural constraints have a significant affect on individual’s social position, and recognises that social mobility can happen, with extreme poverty highly frictional.



Works Cited

Alcock, P. (2006). Understanding Poverty. 3rd Edition. London, Palgrave Macmillan.
Kenworthy, L. (1999). Do social-welfare policies reduce poverty? A cross-national assessment. Social Forces, 77(3), 1119-1139.
Mead, L. (1986). Beyond Entitlement: The Social Obligations of Citizenship. New York: Free Press.
Murray, C (1986) Losing Ground, American Social Policy, 1950-1980. Basic Books, London.
Murray, C (1999) The Underclass Revisited. The American Enterprise Institute, Washington
Welshamn, J (2007). Underclass: A History of the Excluded. Bloomsbury Publishing, London.

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