The Urban Underclass:

Disturbing Problems Demanding Attention

HRD-90-52: Published: Sep 1, 1990. Publicly Released: Sep 1, 1990.

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GAO assessed the development of the urban underclass in the United States.

GAO found that: (1) the urban underclass comprised a relatively small percentage of the population, with estimates ranging from less than 2 million, based on the number of able-bodied persistently poor in urban areas, to 5.6 million based on census tracts with high concentrations of disadvantaged families; (2) between 1970 and 1980, the number of people living in concentrated poverty census tracts increased by 48 percent, while the number of individuals residing in census tracts with high concentrations of disadvantaged families increased 230 percent; (3) multiple factors created barriers for individuals attempting to break the poverty cycle, including a lack of medical services, poor nutrition, and unprepared parents; (4) disadvantaged persons required a combination of childhood and adult intervention programs to change the poverty cycle; (5) societal concerns regarding the underclass included the relatively high incidence of dysfunctional behavior, including drug abuse, crime, out-of wedlock births, unemployment, welfare dependency, and school dropouts; (6) public policies to help the underclass need to focus on making legitimate income opportunities more attractive than such alternatives as theft, drug trafficking, unemployment, and welfare; and (7) mobility opportunities and community development policies could effectively be used to address the negative effects of living in isolated inner-city neighborhoods.

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