Friday, September 30, 2005

The Hallmark of the Underclass

September 29, 2005; Page A18

"Watching the courage of ordinary low-income people as they deal with the aftermath of Katrina and Rita, it is hard to decide which politicians are more contemptible -- Democrats who are rediscovering poverty and blaming it on George W. Bush, or Republicans who are rediscovering poverty and claiming that the government can fix it. Both sides are unwilling to face reality: We haven't rediscovered poverty, we have rediscovered the underclass; the underclass has been growing during all the years that people were ignoring it, including the Clinton years; and the programs politicians tout as solutions are a mismatch for the people who constitute the problem."

Mr Murray locates the real source of the problem as "Large numbers of healthy young men, at ages when labor force participation used to be close to universal, have dropped out...the proportion of young males who have grown up without fathers has also risen relentlessly".

He concludes: "Perhaps the programs now being proposed by the administration will help ordinary poor people whose socialization is just fine and need nothing more than a chance. It is comforting to think so, but past experience with similar programs does not give reason for optimism -- it is hard to exaggerate how ineffectually they have been administered. In any case, poor people who are not part of the underclass seldom need help to get out of poverty. Despite the exceptions that get the newspaper ink, the statistical reality is that people who get into the American job market and stay there seldom remain poor unless they do something self-destructive. And behaving self-destructively is the hallmark of the underclass."

The article is a cogent, well-written article with quite a bit of economic data backing up a few of his points (which I have conveniently rolled over) and manages to relate it to the culture shock that has hit those following Katrina.

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