The Undeserving Poor: America's Enduring Confrontation with Poverty: Fully Updated and Revised
Michael B. Katz
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First published in 1989, The Undeserving Poor was a critically acclaimed and enormously influential account of America's enduring debate about poverty. Taking stock of the last quarter century, Michael B. Katz's new edition of this classic is virtually a new book. As the first did, it will force all concerned Americans to reconsider the foundations of our policies toward the poor, especially in the wake of the Great Recession that began in 2008.
Katz highlights how throughout American history, the poor have been regarded as undeserving: people who do not deserve sympathy because they brought their poverty on themselves, either through laziness and immorality, or because they are culturally or mentally deficient. This long-dominant view sees poverty as a personal failure, serving to justify America's mean-spirited treatment of the poor. Katz reminds us, however, that there are other explanations of poverty besides personal failure. Poverty has been written about as a problem of place, of resources, of political economy, of power, and of market failure. Katz looks at each idea in turn, showing how they suggest more effective approaches to our struggle against poverty.
The Second Edition includes important new material. It now sheds light on the revival of the idea of culture in poverty research; the rehabilitation of Daniel Patrick Moynihan; the resurgent role of biology in discussions of the causes of poverty, such as in The Bell Curve; and the human rights movement's intensified focus on alleviating world poverty. It emphasizes the successes of the War on Poverty and Great Society, especially at the grassroots level. It is also the first book to chart the rise and fall of the "underclass" as a concept driving public policy.
A major revision of a landmark study, The Undeserving Poor helps readers to see poverty-and our efforts to combat it--in a new light.
common good,” better incomes, argued Banﬁeld, would do little to “make the atmosphere of the village less heavy with melancholy.” Indeed, it would probably worsen the situation, because without “accompanying changes in social structure and culture, increasing incomes would probably bring with them the undeserving poor 25 increasing frustration.”68 By 1970 Banﬁeld had extended his pessimistic forecast for social and cultural change to American cities.69 Like the Montegranesi, the American
most of the elderly out of poverty; AFDC boosted no one above the ofﬁcial poverty line. From the beginning, gender biases underscored the distinctions between these categories. Federal public assistance, ADC, was a women’s program. By consigning most needy women with children to ADC, public policy ensured that they would remain poor. Social Security for decades excluded agricultural and domestic workers, two types of occupations that employed a large proportion of women (and blacks). In the
of any saleable skill, lack of motivation, or simply heavy unemployment in the area.” For others, low pay reﬂected racial discrimination or “low productivity” that resulted from inadequate education and skills. Property and savings income were most important for the elderly, but many had earned too little to save, and about half of them had no hospital insurance. Without such transfer payments as existed, many more families would have been poor. Nonetheless, only half the poor received any
payments for nursing home care for individuals with extremely low incomes and no assets, was part of the public assistance track. The beneﬁts they provided and the reimbursement they paid providers differed sharply. At the same time, the preference for delivering beneﬁts through the tax code increased, most notably through the Earned Income Tax Credit, which hardened the line between the employed and nonemployed poor, solidifying the place of the latter as the preeminent undeserving poor.
“end-state” theories, in that they advocated some optimal distribution of resources and evaluated societies on the basis of how closely they approximated it. They showed little concern, however, with how distribution decisions were reached, especially with the inescapable conclusion that they were attainable only through the violation of inviolable individual rights. Nozick proposed, to the contrary, to evaluate distributions according to three criteria: “the principle of acquisition of holdings,