The Underclass: Definition and Measurement

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Science  27 Apr 1990:
Vol. 248, Issue 4954, pp. 450-453
DOI: 10.1126/science.248.4954.450


The term "underclass" has been widely used by journalists and by some social scientists but, until recently, has not been clearly defined or quantified. Most of the recent quantitatively oriented literature on the topic has used a definition that emphasizes either the persistence ofpoverty or the number ofpeople living in neighborhoods where the incidence ofpoverty or dysfunctional behavior is high. Conclusions about the size and growth of the underclass are sensitive to the definition chosen, but most available evidence suggests that it is small but growing.