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The Underclass

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Sociology 2105A/B

The Underclass • The underclass refers to those poor people who live in areas with high concentrations of poverty and few opportunities to improve their lives. These individuals suffer from extreme forms of segregation, resulting in a lack of good schooling and well-paying jobs. • The underclass includes about one in seven poor people and only a small percentage of the country’s entire population. Although the underclass faces persistent poverty, the poor is generally characterized as dynamic: roughly 25% of the U.S. population falls below the poverty line at some point over a ten- year period (usually due to illness, unemployment, or divorce) and remain poor for only a year or two. The Middle Class • Beginning around 1970, many U.S. families found themselves working harder than ever, yet feeling that they were falling behind. For a large share of workers, earnings have stalled, forcing them to work longer hours to meet the rising costs of housing and college. • Underlying this pattern of stalled earnings are economic changes. Specifically, lower-paid service work (e.g., sales positions, computer data entry, and fast-food restaurant work) has replaced factory work. • Young people are also feeling this pinch, which is why more than half (53%) of those between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four now live with their parents. Social Problems Linked to Poverty 1) Poor Health - Many poor people can not afford adequate nutrition; about 15% of poor families are undernourished. - Poor families receive little medical care; at least one-third lack health insurance—more than twice the national average. Further, the poor have higher rates of infant mortality, the risk of death within the first year of life. - The poor experience more stress and are more likely to suffer from alcoholism, drug abuse, and violence. - The poor, who are more likely to die from infectious diseases and violence at any age, have a lower life expectancy than other groups. Thus, life expectancy for whites is about 77.5 years, while that of African Americans (who typically earn 65% as much income) is 72.2 years. 2) Substandard Housing - Poor people must contend with crowding, dangerous lead-based paint, lack of heat, broken windows and locks, and collapsing walls and ceilings. - The National Coalition for the Homeless reports that at least 600,000 people are homeless in the U.S. on any given night, and as many as 2 million people are homeless at some point during a year. The number of homeless grow higher each year; the U.S. Conference of Mayors reports a steady increase in requests for emergency shelters throughout the 1990s, with a 15% increase from 1999 to 2000. The average length of time a person remains h
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