“The Uses of Poverty: The Poor Pay for All”
* Herbert J. Gans
Poverty is a persistent social phenomenon. A functional analysis (Robert Merton) of poverty may explain positive functions as to why such phenomenon continues to persist, as seen by Herbert J. Gans’ study, “The Uses of Poverty: The Poor Pay for All”, which expresses thirteen positive functions of poverty and further expresses its consistency with the functionalist perspective. In society, everything goes hand in hand, the rich need the poor and the poor need the rich. Gans expresses that the existence of poverty ensures that society’s “dirty work” gets done, the first positive function of poverty. Society has two choices, they can pay higher wages to do “clean work” or they can force the poor to do the “dirty work” for lower wages, which is what in fact is being done in the American society. “Economic activities that involve dirty work depend in the poor for their existence… and could not persist in their present form without the poor” (Gans, p.46). This is a perfect example of how equilibrium is maintained in society, which satisfies one of the basic propositions of functionalism. It explains that the affluent and the impoverished are interdependent and therefore maintain a balance as a part of society. Since the rich and the poor are interdependent, they each have to fulfill certain functions in order to maintain equilibrium. Gans clearly expresses that poverty persists because it fulfills certain positive functions. He further explains that the dysfunctions of poverty maintain the functions of the affluent by means of non-intended interactions such as: the poor committing crimes, and in turn the police, the more affluent, have jobs; on the other hand, the wealthy need to continue increasing their wealth and therefore use the poor to do society’s “dirty work” at low wages. In other words, consistent with functionalism, each part (rich and poor, in this case) of this social system...
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