SOCL 2001 Lecture Notes - Lecture 48: Richard Herrnstein, Developed Country, Oscar Lewis

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Chapter 10: Poverty
What is Poverty?
Poverty can be defined as a condition of deprivation due to economic circumstances
The Census Bureau uses a set of money income thresholds that vary by family size and
composition to determine who is in poverty
Poverty thresholds are derived from the cost of a minimum food diet multiplied by
three to account for other family expenses
Absolute poverty is the point at which a household’s income falls below the
necessary level to purchase food to sustain its members
At the core of the debate about poverty in America is the question of whether poverty is
the cause of social ills such as crime, poor educational outcomes, divorce, and so on, or
whether it is their result
Perverse incentives- reward structures that lead to suboptimal outcomes by
stimulating counterproductive behavior
Welfare use
Unintended consequences are those policy results not anticipated at the time
of implementation
A recession is a period of economic decline lasting half a year or more
During a recession, poverty rates may be higher
The Culture of Poverty
The culture of poverty theory (Oscar Lewis) argues that poor people adopt certain
practices, which differ from those of middle class, “mainstream” society, in order to adapt
and survive in difficult economic circumstances
Illegal work, multigenerational living arrangement, multifamily households, serial
relationships in place of marriage, etc.
While it may be true that reliance on welfare generates a sense of helplessness and
dependency in some people, there are also structural reasons why it can be difficult to
transition from welfare to work.
Receiving assistance takes considerable “work” and may make it difficult to work
a traditional job
The underclass- the culture of poverty supersized for the 1980s
Not only are the poor different from mainstream society, but are increasingly
deviant and even dangerous to the rest of us.
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Document Summary

Poverty can be defined as a condition of deprivation due to economic circumstances. The census bureau uses a set of money income thresholds that vary by family size and composition to determine who is in poverty. Poverty thresholds are derived from the cost of a minimum food diet multiplied by three to account for other family expenses. Absolute poverty is the point at which a household"s income falls below the necessary level to purchase food to sustain its members. At the core of the debate about poverty in america is the question of whether poverty is the cause of social ills such as crime, poor educational outcomes, divorce, and so on, or whether it is their result. Perverse incentives- reward structures that lead to suboptimal outcomes by stimulating counterproductive behavior. Unintended consequences are those policy results not anticipated at the time of implementation. A recession is a period of economic decline lasting half a year or more.

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