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Urban Underclass

  • By: David Wilson
  • In: Encyclopedia of Geography
  • Edited by: Barney Warf
  • Subject:General Geography, Earth & Environmental Science

The term urban underclass has been extremely controversial in the social sciences since its ascendancy in the early 1980s. The term, coined by Gunner Myrdal in 1962 to describe a stratum of the long-term unemployed population in American cities, tenaciously persists in academic and policy circles. At the core of all dominant definitions, the term references an urban population that is persistently low income and has difficulty obtaining suitable waged work to ensure a decent quality of life. Most also agree that there is a strong racial and class association that corresponds to this population—that is, they are disproportionately African American, Latino, and workers at the lowest end of the new postindustrial service economy. At the same time, this population is recognized as having relatively ...

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