Life At The BottomAndrea -- Friday, August 30, 2002 -- 12:59:49 AM
Inspired by Life At The Bottom, The Worldview That Makes The Underclass, by Theodore Dalrymple, a physician who works with what he terms the underclass in Birmingham, England. Dalrymple traces the disordered, dysfunctional, apparently hereditary misery of his patients (along with their sense of entitlement) to the rise of the welfare state and the tendency of policy makers to reward victimhood while ignoring personal responsibility.
Is there such a thing as an "underclass" in this country? Is it permanent? And whose fault is it?This thread is tagged: policy, poverty, poor
(All users will see what tags exist for a thread. Please tag carefully!)
Yes, no, and theirs.
Could you summarize some of the points of the book?
I think some fault can be laid on the underclass, but it's important to remember that a lot of really poor people have no concept of being middle class. They may see middle-class life portrayed in the media, but they don't have a good concept of how to get there themselves.
I agree. But we spend a lot of time and resources giving them opportunities to get themselves there.
I have a really hard time with the concept that being in the underclass is entirely the fault of the underclass. Where does the concept of intergenerational transmission fit into that? If you're raised in a family that has always been poor, and have no resources (financial, social, otherwise), how do you know how to make it to pull yourself up by your bootstraps? We had this discussion in another thread: you've never learned how to make connections. You don't know how to dress for a job interview, besides the fact that you don't own decent clothes for a job interview in the first place. Et cetera.
"they don't have a good concept of how to get there themselves."
See, I don't understand what that means. Get an education, get a job, keep a job. I think it's insulting to say the underclass are incapable of getting that concept.
I think a lot of it has to do with parental expectations/encouragements. The kid whose parents tell him that education is important, even if they never had any has a huge advantage over the kid whose parents think education is a waste of time, do you think you're better than us, or even, just a who cares about your grades, whatever kind of attitude.
Get an education how? In the crappy public schools in the crappy neighborhoods where they live, where "teachers" spend their whole day just trying to control their classrooms? And do you mean, go to college on top of that? When there's absolutely no precedent in the family for anyone to go to college? And likely multiple family demands that keep kids from launching?
I can go on and on, but I'm not suggesting that the underclass are "incapable of getting that concept;" I'm saying it's way more complicated than the middle class, who take this stuff for granted, believes.
I don't know that it is insulting, though, unless you assume that most of the people NOT born in the underclass would be able to negotiate these things had they been born in bad circumstances. I don't want to harp on the Dubya thing, but he makes a good example; is there any indication, given the way he spent his youth, that he would have applied himself, studied, stayed away from drugs and alcohol, and all that had he been born in a ghetto? He wasn't required to stay on the straight and narrow, though; there was a second chance for every mistake he made. I think do-overs of many kinds are a seldom-appreciated perk of being middle-class and above, and make a big difference.
My poor family members seem to have no concept of how to stop being poor. They don't understand the practical benefits of an education. They don't know the value of speaking standard English. They don't seem to have any desire to live anywhere but where they live.
That's a big one, isn't it? Someone can understand the importance of getting and keeping a job, but not realize that their own speech patterns are a major hurdle. It's hard to really hear yourself, and it's especially hard to pick up on if everybody around you speaks in the same, nonstandard way.
How do you account for 1st generation Asian immigrants doing better than multigenerational poor people? They also did not have speaking English, education and getting a job (in the US) modeled for them. My own father's parents never went past 8th grade. He looked around, saw that the rich people had college educations, got a job, put himself through college (1st graduate in the family), passed the CPA exam and later opened his own firm.
What are the requirements for entering this country? And isn't the fact that someone is ambitious and aggressive enough to leave everything s/he has ever known and seek to start over in a foreign country significant?
What types of cultures do these immigrants come from--cultures that emphasized education or cultures for which education was not to be aspired to?
I think Racehorse nailed it. I would add that in the U.S., the stereotype of Asians is that they are smart and industrious, so there's a pro-Asian-immigrant bias. The bias is against American underclass groups.