Lecture notes

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22 Dec 2010
GGR 254 – USA Geography Lecture 8 Nov. 15, 2010
Questions: What is the urban underclass? What are its geographic implications?
What is the underclass?
-Popular and conservative idea
Social pathology
Culture of poverty
Charles Murray
Particular group of people that are not functioning the way they should in American
society – underclass (Conservative perspective)
-What is the problem in this view?
Behaviour not poverty – they do not take responsibility of their own behaviour; not
society but individual
Welfare dependency – bc of high rates of unemployment
They are the forces that created their own situation – underclass
Lawrence Mead
-Liberal response to conservative view
Those outside the occupational system: “persons who are weakly connected to the formal
labor forces and those social context tends to maintain or further weaken their
attachment (Van Reitsma, 1989)
Bc these people are outside the main stream of society bc they are unemployable they are
driven to street crime bc they do not have the skill
Similar to conservative but they understand it as a social problem and not individual
Concentration: growing share living in extreme poverty
Social isolation:groups....left behind” (Wilson 1987)
Society has moved on without them; they are victims of the forces of capitalist growth
W. J. Wilson
-Term has several disadvantages
Some people do not like this term bc its against some particular racial or ethnic groups of
Lumps together too many things – people, places, education, family structure, drug
problems etc...chaotic idea
Conflates cause and effect – where does the actual analysis stop? What came first poverty
or the underclass?
-But it has some advantages
Focus on structure
Links family, race, class and place – useful way; how can we understand why people live
in American ghettos
Raises importance of policy
One can try to understand the reason this structure of the underclass
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-class, race and gender: create and reproduce class position – has a lot to do with race; the
ghettos – where majority of the underclass lives
-recent structural changes: strengthen existing inequalities – the number of people who are
underclass has grown in the last 30 years or so
-once you are in the bottom of the system then it is hard to get out of it; social reproduction, if
you are poor then your kids are going to be poor, if you are well off then your kids will most
likely also be well off
-there is a geography to the underclass
Trapped in the inner-city of Americas largest metropolises – world of the underclass,
high unemployment, atypical family structure, drug problems etc...
Area which underclass lives and the rest of the cities is made of commercial and business
Middle class and higher class are moving to suburbs leaving behind the poor group of
-Skid Row
Long history – 19th century
Linked to resources frontier
Centre of seasonal unemployment
Young single men unattached to mainstream families and such
Great rates of unemployment
Key features – SRO hotels, missions, etc – saloons, clubs, brothels, etc – pawn shops, etc
-Public housing spaces are sites of the underclass
Pruitt – Igoe, St. Louis (1954-1974)
33 buildings/ 2.780 apartments
Racially segregated – mainly African American
These places became so bad that it got blown up – dismal failure
Three reasons as the why it was a problem: Economic decline, wealthy whites left and no
investment going in public housing
-Another form of geography: Spatial mismatch
Where your work was and the way of transportation effected employment
If the jobs were not around and you had no transportation to get there, then how do you
get the job? You dont.
Transit system is key
-spatial mismatch, what is going on?
Separation between home and work
Inner-city residents become ‘trapped’
Those who were poor and lived in centre DC could not get access to these suburbs where
all the jobs was; then you become unemployable – viscous cycle of inequality
-What is the underclass? Key point: physical isolation and residential segregation
-homelessness; what is homelessness?
Lack of regular place to sleep/ live – related to poverty and related to a state of
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