Rediscovering the underclass
This chapter looks at 'disreputable' history of the term 'underclass'. Recent debates have entailed rediscovering a section of the population that was only temporarily lost from view. In doing this it is necessary to summarize and review the commentaries and the research findings of sociologists from the Second World War until the present. The chapter concludes with a reflection upon the sociologist as social actor and the consequences for others, whether intended or not, of the way in which use and promote ideas about the social world. The earliest postwar reference by a social scientist to the idea of an underclass is in Gunnar Myrdal's Challenge to Affluence published in 1964. Unemployment, drugs, incarceration and early deaths had reduced the pool of marriageable men. The long-term unemployed are the best 'candidates' for underclass membership. The pedigree of the underclass idea is the subject of another concept of this chapter.