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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Poverty, the Underclass, and Immigration: Another Look at the Debate on Poverty


The current popular debate on poverty focuses on the underclass. Poverty is considered, in this context, a problem of unskilled, uneducated individuals or of groups ofpeople whose lifestyles mire them in poverty. In this article, the author argues that the focus on the underclass, and subsequent use of individually and culturally focused explanations for poverty, skew our understanding of the problem and divert our attention from appropriate policy responses. Using evidence from four different periods of immigration into Ameri­ can cities, an argument is presentecffor the importance ofstructural and institutional factors in understanding the success or failure of each group to find work and move up. The author concludes that these factors are better able to account for poverty and justify increased attention to structural conditions in poverty.

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