Poverty and Underclass in American Society

The concept of poverty is widely discussed in our society. Despite progress in food-producing and favorable social policy, poverty can still be found in the most developed countries.

In 2005, there were 37 million, or over 12.6% of the U.S. population was poor. The fastest-growing segment of the poverty population is single mothers with children. Earlier poverty meant only the inability to earn one’s living and provide a family with food, clothes, and shelter. Current receipts and expenditures exceed those in the twentieth century due to inflation. And understanding of poverty has changed. Poor people in the U.S. may have a three-bedroom flat and an automobile. From the point of view of the seventies, such “poor” people can be considered prosperous. Needy people in developed and developing countries live in quite different conditions.

However, the poor are often associated with bad housing conditions, hunger, and malnutrition, financial and material problems, which imply lack or deficiency of the necessities for human survival such as freshwater, food, health care, clothes, and home. Such factors as insecure livelihood, distant location, physical disabilities, and abuse of power, limited possibilities, poverty diseases (AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis in countries of the third world) also belong to the poverty definition.

There are two approaches to defining poverty. Defining poverty by dividing the poor from the nonpoor on the basis of some fixed standard (e.g., income) is called the absolute approach. The relative approach implies dividing the poor from the nonpoor on the basis of the wealth and income of the average person. Inequality is discussed in terms of relative poverty. In developed countries, the poor may not live in absolute poverty. But their relative poverty is connected to their social life: worsening of social cohesion, growing crime, worse health, level of trust.

Poor people are not only those who have mental problems, people with substance abuse problems and with low-paying, dead-end jobs, people, which have a tendency to be homeless. There exists a concept of “culture of poverty,” which is a self-perpetuating subculture among some (but not all) poor people that traps them in poverty. This culture comprises certain rules and values. The people realize and acknowledge their helplessness, dependency, powerlessness, inferiority, rejection, and contempt of others.

They experience marginality and entrapping into poverty, which will never end. The opposite point of view is argued by situationists, who believe that the unique social characteristics of poor people are caused by their unique social situation and not a culture of poverty.

Amongst the poor population, two classes are identified: the underclass and the working poor. The underclass comprises the poor, unemployed, or underemployed. This notion is referred to those trapped in geographic and social isolation rather than to the majority of the “deserving” poor. The underclass is the lowest social stratum, made up of the long-term poor who are excluded from the mainstream of society. They rely on public assistance and do not work. Members of the underclass have significantly higher rates of suicide and mental disorder.

“Working poor” is used to refer to people who work, and their poverty is caused by very low wages, not the lack of work. Amongst such people, there are service and undereducated manual workers. However, educated immigrants coming to a developed country can also enter the class of working poor. They are poor against their will as opposed to the underclass, which chooses a lifestyle and is dependent on welfare handouts.
Unexpected events such as a drop in income, bankruptcy, illness, injury, and many others can gradually bring to poverty. The human factor and elaborated government policy are likely to reduce poverty.

Different views on poverty in developed and developing countries should be treated in a particular way. Collaboration and considered decisions may contribute to the reduction of poverty all over the world.

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