THE WAR AGAINST THE POOR: The Underclass and Anti-Poverty Policy by Herbert J. Gans

THE WAR AGAINST THE POOR: The Underclass and Anti-Poverty Policy

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Sociologist Gans (Columbia; Middle American Individualism, 1988, etc.) deconstructs the pejorative label ""underclass"" and offers some pie-in-the-sky proposals for eliminating poverty in America. According to Gans, since 1980 a diverse cross-section of poor Americans have been lumped together as ""the underclass"" and thus banished from mainstream society. Welfare recipients, school dropouts, panhandlers, drug addicts, street criminals, illegal immigrants, and assorted others have all been shoved under the derogatory umbrella label, which has become a behavioral term connoting ""moral deficiencies [and] bad values."" Gans traces the word ""underclass"" to a brief passage in a 1963 book by Gunnar Myrdal that described the economic victims of deindustrialization. Gans then shows how the word was transformed into a stigma by a succession of journalists and social scientists who assumed from the start that the underclass was black. The author's deconstruction of the popular misnomer is instructive; nevertheless, he stops short of full-scale analysis, maintaining that society is not a ""text."" Instead, his interest here is in how the popularization of the behavioral label ""underclass"" has resulted in certain political actions (such as current efforts to eliminate welfare as a means of eliminating morally suspect welfare dependency) and in certain popular trends (such as the proliferation of racist talk radio and books like The Bell Curve). The book's second section is an academic's wish list for an antipoverty program that would assimilate the underclass into American society: Gans favors massive job creation by private industry plus government-sponsored public works, ""drastic work-sharing,"" and value-added taxes, as well as a variety of nebulous measures, such as ""the separation of work from income"" through a minimum income guarantee and ""a yet-to-be-invented method"" for media to debunk class stereotypes. Gans's analysis of the popular code word reads like a fascinating footnote; the rest of the book is familiar going.

Pub Date: Aug. 15th, 1995
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Basic