Research Reports

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Reviews of new research at public agencies and private institutions

"The Underclass Revisited."

The AEI Press, c/o Publisher Resources Inc., 1224 Heil Quaker Blvd., P.O. Box 7001, La Vergne, Tenn. 37086–7001, 43 pp. $9.95. Author: Charles Murray

With the crime rate down, welfare rolls shrinking, and the labor market tight, the underclass is out of the spotlight. But it has been largely untouched by these positive social trends, reports Murray, author of the influential Losing Ground (1984). By underclass, he explains, he means the millions of people—chiefly urban, black, and low-income—who are cut off from mainstream America, "living a life in which... productive work, family, [and] community... exist in fragmented and corrupted forms." The falling crime rate—down by 17 percent nationally between 1991 and 1997— has mainly been achieved, he writes, "not by socializing the underclass but by putting large numbers of its members behind bars." During those years, the number of people in prison or on probation or parole increased by 25 percent, to 5.7 million. Despite an economy that has employers begging for help, Murray says, 23 percent of young black males not in school, the military, or prison were jobless in 1997 and not even looking for work. Out-of-wedlock births, at least, are not on the rise. The proportion of black children who are born to unwed mothers has even dropped slightly, from a high of 70 percent in 1994 to 69 percent in 1997— still disturbingly high. And in 1997, 26 percent of white children were born to unmarried women, "a figure comparable to the black ratio in the mid-1960s."

It is still uncertain, Murray says, what the slimming of the welfare rolls since the 1996 reform (by 38 percent for blacks and 33 percent for whites, as of mid-1997) means for the underclass. However, unofficial data reported in mid-1998, he says, suggest that many of the women leaving welfare "would not have spent much time in the system anyway and are not part of the underclass." Moreover, "no... body of research demonstrates that it is good for children when a single mother works— rather the opposite."

"Economically," Murray writes, "underclass neighborhoods are probably somewhat more prosperous than they were during the recession of 1991–1992." However, it is "not at all clear" that there has been any social improvement. The infant mortality rate fell sharply between 1982 and 1997, but the incidence of very-low-birthweight babies (under 3.3 pounds) increased by 38 percent among blacks and 22 percent among whites. Despite improved medical care, it appears that more and more women "are getting pregnant and then failing to take even rudimentary care of themselves."

"World Population Beyond Six Billion."

Population Reference Bureau, 1875 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Ste. 520, Washington, D.C. 20009–5728, 44 pp. $7. Authors: Alene Gelbard, Carl Haub, and Mary M. Kent

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