9780394523439 / 0394523431

The Underclass


Publisher:Random House



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About the book:

Ken Auletta's The Underclass, first published in 1982, proposes to uncover who constitutes the poorest of Americans, and how they might best be aided by government and industry. While updated and revised to consider changes in both poverty and policy over the past 20 years, the book remains centered on Auletta's research of the late 1970s. Auletta, a staff writer at The New Yorker, focuses primarily on the very poor students attending basic skills classes through the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC), a Manhattan-based antipoverty nonprofit that had been having good results helping members of the "underclass" become working members of society. For contrasting examples, he also briefly explores the extreme poverty of whites living in Appalachia and rural blacks in Mississippi. The problems he finds are complex, but not necessarily intractable. Positioning himself as neither a liberal or a conservative, Auletta calls himself "too optimistic to accept the laissez-faire theory, and too pessimistic to embrace wholesale government solutions." Instead, he encourages programs such as the MDRC, which use what he calls a "tough love" approach to helping the very poor. How many people constitute "the underclass"? What role does race play? Who is responsible for the problem of poverty in America? Readers who ask these questions will find answers, and much to debate, in this well-researched study. --Maria Dolan

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