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Nowadays the problems of poverty and poor Americans are as hot, as in the last century. The situation with poverty in America tends to get better, but the problem doesn’t pass away.
This paper is devoted to the problems of poverty and the “undeserving poor” class. It is necessary to study the meaning of the term “undeserving poor”, why is it occurred? And is today the problem of the underclass still of great importance for Americans?
To understand the problem fully, it is necessary to study some historical information, and facts about the problems of underclass. Also it is necessary to say about the evidence of this problem in the 21st century, and if the underclass still exist in the USA, and estimate the depth of the problem of the nowadays.
When speaking about the problem of poverty, it is necessary to point out the ways of solving this problem in the USA, and who is responsible for this. Speaking about the poorest, it is clear that they need the help of society and the government. What steps had been taken in the past to stop the problem of the poverty, and what steps have been taken during the last years and decades?
This is a study of poverty, official poverty policy, and the underclass problem both in the past history of the USA and nowadays.
“The undeserving poor” and American underclass
The label “undeserving poor” dates back to the 18th century and refers to a societal underclass had to be poor because of their social position, origin, nationality, membership of national minorities. This term is closely connected with the term underclass . Members of the underclass are not just very poor, or people with low income, but they must have the behavior of a distinct group, a deviant or antisocial outlook on life. (Williams Kelso, 1994)
Some scientists divide the underclass into groups according to the primary reasons of this status: this might include the social underclass, the impoverished underclass, the reproductive underclass, the educational underclass, the violent underclass and the criminal underclass with some expected horizontal mobility between these groups. (Williams Kelso, 1994).
The term “undeserving poor” was used by Michael B. Katz in his book “The Undeserving Poor”, that touches the questions of sociological status of the poorest, who really needs to be helped. He wrote: “Part of the reason is that conventional classifications of poor people serve such useful purposes. They offer a familiar and easy target for displacing rage, frustration, and fear. They demonstrate the link between virtue and success that legitimates capitalist political economy. And by dividing poor people, they prevent their coalescing into a powerful, unified, and threatening political force. Stigmatized conditions and punitive treatment are powerful incentives to work, whatever the wages and conditions”. (Katz, p. 195).
The image of the poor and poverty in the United States of America from the historical times has been identified with the newcomers in New England, servants and sailors from colonies, and of course, with African slaves. So poverty and social class was strongly connected with the origin, race, nationality and membership of national minorities.
Going back to the time of the Revolution for Independence of1770s-1780s, there was a strong discrimination between the “worthy” and the “unworthy” people. Later, Americans also didn’t stop this discrimination and even during Jacksonian democracy, it has been argued that the division in society was between “producers” and “non-producers”. (A. Schlesinger, and others).
During the 20th century the situation had changed in another way, but anyway poverty was not always connected with work, but with origin and belonging to particular class. and were the when most Americans began to think they were a middle class.
Even during the Great Depression (1929-1941), when great number of Americans faced deep poverty, and problem of poor became a hot issue, the attitude of the government and upper classes to the poor hadn’t changed. By the beginning of the 30-s of XX century the need for a national system of old-age insurance and unemployment becomes apparent and the political elite and society.
Beginning from the times of New Deal (1933-1939), a new view point on the riole of government in the fighting with poverty appeared. Most Americans tried to call themselves a middle class, when in fact they were much poorer. As David Hackett Fisher noted in one of his books: “Only in America does the middle class own only its debts” .
So most of Americans were trying to move up into the middle-class, and that was in much due to the industrial opportunities of that time, that meant very fast development of the economy and welfare of the country. This wave continues until the end of the 70-ies of XX century. By this time the idea of the modern state as a welfare state, with broad commitments in the areas of old-age benefits, unemployment, poverty, disability, prevails in the USA.