New study takes closer look at urban poverty

April 16, 1991|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- The impoverished "underclass" of the nation's cities is smaller than many people have estimated, but its problems may be more intractable than both conservative and liberal theorists have suggested, according to one of the most extensive studies ever on underclass poverty.

The research, to be released today by Washington's Brookings Institution, contradicts many common notions about urban poverty.

For example, despite extensive publicity about an "epidemic" of teen-age pregnancy, pregnancy rates among teen-agers have sharply declined, falling by about one-third from the mid-1960s until the late 1980s, the research shows.

Several of the research studies contained in the new volume emphasize the importance of individual behavior in determining who stays poor and who does not.

But the strong role of family disintegration may make improvement for underclass members particularly difficult because it would not be eased necessarily by a rising economy or changed government benefits.

"The most powerful force contributing to the formation of an urban underclass, perversely enough, may be the changing values of mainstream American society," writes one of the study's authors, Paul E. Peterson of Harvard University.

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