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The Underclass

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There has been some discussion of racial politics recently on this site.  The existence of a predominantly black underclass affects racial politics.  I thought it might be worth posting explicitly about the underclass.  I actually posted the following on Rebirth of Reason a little over three years ago.

I take the word "underclass" to refer to those people that are entangled in a self-destructive behavior pattern of sexual predation, teenage pregnancy, welfare dependence, crime, and substance abuse. Unfortunately, there seem to be a lot of them.

Once a person is entangled in this, only he or she can get himself or herself out of it. The rest of us may be able to do things to make it easier or harder, but it is ultimately up to the individual.

In this country, the underclass is predominantly black. (I gather this is not true in other countries, such as England.) There are undoubtedly historical reasons for this which I will not try to analyze here. This should not be important and certainly does not change what I have already said. Since race looms large in America today, the blackness of the underclass becomes important in various ways.

It gives people in the underclass an excuse, if they wish to use it, for not trying to disentangle themselves or not trying very hard. It may not be a very good excuse, but it is an excuse.

It leads some people to say that non-blacks, especially whites, should not say anything about the underclass. Such exclusion of people from talking about an issue is not right and may lead to the loss of good ideas.

It provides fodder for people who are prejudiced against blacks and are looking for things to support their prejudices.

It skews the statistics for blacks. Different people may use these statistics in different ways, but if they do not acknowledge the skewing, they are not being honest.

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Do you mean a high percentage of blacks are situated in the underclass, or that the underclass is made up of mostly black people, or both ?

Sexual predation and substance abuse aren’t  necessarily limited to those in a specific socio-economic strata. Though those behaviors are highly associated with membership in the ‘lower classes’, poor education is likely a more causal factor. 

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15 hours ago, Doug Morris said:

sexual predation, teenage pregnancy, welfare dependence, crime, and substance abuse.

For sexual predation, I don't think there is any class difference. It might even be greater for the upper class.

Teenage pregnancy might just be a matter of being able to afford birth control. Many people are bad with birth control, and as a population they probably would get pregnant much more often with less money.

I don't know what welfare dependence is supposed to be.

Crime is often a matter of vigilance of the people trying to catch criminals. There probably isn't more crime here in the lower class necessarily, it's just more visible. If you have more money, your crimes won't be as visible.

The idea of lower-class is fine because it distinguishes how money makes a difference in one's life, but it is also easy to use it as an idea for judging them as a collective.

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13 hours ago, tadmjones said:

Sexual predation and substance abuse aren’t  necessarily limited to those in a specific socio-economic strata.

All the things I mentioned can take place at any economic level, although in the case of welfare dependence that would be welfare broadly defined.  I was referring to a situation in which they become a mutually reinforcing pattern that dominates people's lives and pushes their children in the wrong direction.  This is a different issue from poverty in general.

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18 minutes ago, Eiuol said:

I don't know what welfare dependence is supposed to be.

Welfare dependence is making welfare a way of life and giving up on being productive.  Being a teenage mother makes it harder to get away from this, although that depends on how much support she can get.

22 minutes ago, Eiuol said:

The idea of lower-class is fine because it distinguishes how money makes a difference in one's life, but it is also easy to use it as an idea for judging them as a collective.

Underclass is not the same as lower-class.  Depending partly on which class you ask, lower-class is defined by money, or by education and occupation, or by taste and breeding.  Underclass is a narrower category defined as stated above.

I agree that it is important to remember that each person in either category is an individual.  This is a more general version of my statement 

16 hours ago, Doug Morris said:

Once a person is entangled in this, only he or she can get himself or herself out of it.

My main point is not to judge them, but to point out that they are entangled in a self-destructive behavior pattern.  Getting out of this pattern is possible, but is easier said than done.

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56 minutes ago, Doug Morris said:

Welfare dependence is making welfare a way of life and giving up on being productive. 

I don't actually believe this is a real thing. Or at least, I don't think welfare has anything to do with causing people to not want to be productive individuals. Generally people all want to be productive. Some people don't, and those people would end up on welfare, but they would not have been productive even if welfare didn't exist. 

1 hour ago, Doug Morris said:

Underclass is not the same as lower-class. 

I think I know what you mean. Do you have a concrete example of underclass that isn't someone lower-class?

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You don't know any black people ?

The above statement was posted before I saw your answer that the underclass was predominantly black and not that most black people are predominantly underclass.

Edited by tadmjones
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4 minutes ago, Eiuol said:

Do you have a concrete example of underclass that isn't someone lower-class?

Or do you mean someone lower-class that isn't underclass?

A long time ago I dated a woman who lived in a trailer with her grandmother.  Her parents and sister lived in a trailer in another trailer park.  She worked as a houseparent in a deaf-blind school and later as a clerk and assistant in a laundry.  I think she had also worked as a waitress.  Her mother had worked in a mill.  Her father had a gas station with a small convenience store.  I don't think any of them ever went to college.  They would probably qualify as lower-class, or at least as close to it as anyone I've known well.  To the best of my knowledge none of them ever took part in sexual predation, welfare, or substance abuse.  Her mother was 17 years older than she was, so that is at least technically teenage pregnancy on her mother's part.  To the best of my knowledge the only crimes they were involved in were traffic violations, which were not frequent, and cockfighting on her father's part.  Laws against cockfighting are improper.  They certainly weren't underclass.

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18 minutes ago, tadmjones said:

If as you say, most of the underclass is black , what do you identify as the cause ?

Post 1960 black American culture ?

I don't claim to be an expert on causes.  The causes may be complicated.  It started with the disadvantages blacks historically faced.   Culture probably played a role.  Well-intentioned government policies probably played a role.  Welfare can create perverse incentives.  I've read that Johnson's war on poverty changed some functions from being performed by members of poor communities to being performed by outsiders, and that this was destructive. 

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3 hours ago, Doug Morris said:

Or do you mean someone lower-class that isn't underclass?

 

What's the difference between lower-class and underclass? If anything I thought that lower-class might be a type of underclass. Now I don't know what you're referring to. Are you specifically referring to a self-destructive pattern? 

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1 minute ago, Eiuol said:

What's the difference between lower-class and underclass? If anything I thought that lower-class might be a type of underclass. Now I don't know what you're referring to. Are you specifically referring to a self-destructive pattern? 

Underclass refers specifically to a certain self-destructive behavior pattern, as I stated in the OP.

You introduced lower-class into this discussion.  Underclass is a subcategory of lower-class.

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