This chapter is a state of the art review of the research and theoretical writing on urban poverty. We reveal that there has been an ebb and flow in the study of urban poverty in America. The social reform movement of early twentieth century, responding to the dislocation that accompanied rapid industrialization, prompted a number of descriptive and muckraking studies of poverty in urban areas. At roughly the same time, sociologists at the University of Chicago conducted a prodigious volume of research on urban life, including a number of ethnographic studies on poverty that were far more analytical and systematic than those of the social reformers. However, by the late 1930s scholarly research on urban poverty was on the wane, only to be revived again in the 1960s following the rediscovery of poverty and the emergence of the Great Society program.

We point out that the subject of urban poverty and the structure of the family has drawn considerable attention from researchers since the mid-1960s and has helped to raise the level of national interest in the problems of the inner city and the crystallization of a sizable ghetto underclass. It is emphasized, however, that with the emergence of longitudinal data sets many assumptions about the intergenerational transmission of poverty and persistent poverty in the inner city have been challenged. We furthermore maintain that research on urban poverty and migration has raised questions and generated new insights on the contribution of the urban migrant to the current problems of innercity poverty and social dislocations; and that several recent studies, possibly representing a trend in urban poverty research, have provided significant insights on the relationship between poverty and welfare dependency. However, we point out that since the results of the public policy research are so mixed, it would be risky to draw policy recommendations from them. On the other hand, the most recent studies of the effects of the Reagan budget cuts (the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981) on the working poor are clear and consistent: they reveal the nature of the federal government's dramatic retreat from the Great Society programs of the 1960s.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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