A) What is the White Underclass, and what are the national economic changes and forces?
The United States economy took a turn for the worse in 2008, and has been steadily declining ever since. The reason for the financial crisis began with the failing of the financial institutions, which threatened the global economy. The reason for the failing of the largest financial institutions can be debated, but many believe that it was due to the failure of accurately and safely evaluating the risks involved in their lending procedures. Whatever the reason, the recession had a massive impact on the country, and none were affected more than the Americans living at or below the poverty level. These people are known as the American underclass.
What defines an underclass? It has been defined as the bottom of society, those who have become victims of a poverty trap. The underclass is largely made up of unemployed, young, single-parent families that are living in destitute stricken areas, areas in which the children lack educational qualifications, good role models, and social skills. This provides them little opportunity to escape the unfortunate situation in which they’ve been placed (www.BusinessDictionary.com/definition/underclass, 2012). The term “underclass” has been classified in two different ways, according to the article “The White Underclass” (“The White Underclass”, 1994). The first, simply put, is classified as areas that contain the extremely poor. The second classification gives a more detailed look as to why they are extremely poor. The second classification is areas that contain a high number of single family households, usually with women at the head of the household, and often dependent on government support. Charles Murray, an American libertarian political scientist, wrote “illegitimacy is the single most important social problem of our time – more important than crime, drugs, poverty, illiteracy, welfare or homelessness, because it drives everything else.” (“The White Underclass”, 1994) These families are the victims of a vicious circle; the children of these families have a high dropout percentage, which often leads to having children out of wedlock. The absence of these fathers is usually due to crime, drugs, or just a lack of responsibility. Twenty-two percent of children born in 1991 were born out of wedlock, with that number increasing every year (“The White Underclass”, 1994). Many of these unwed mothers are too young and inexperienced to be more than a burden on society, which doesn’t leave much hope for the children that they give birth to. Many of these young white women that are having children out of wedlock are not in the least ashamed at getting pregnant at such a young age and without being married. They believe that having children will “give them someone to love” (“The White Underclass”, 1994). Unfortunately, as seen in the documentary “Culture of Hate”, our children are a reflection of what we are (“A Culture of Hate”, 2002).
Financial obstacles are faced by almost everyone at some point in time, but with those that are part of the underclass, it is a way of life. It’s not poverty that is the issue, but rather the widening gap in economic classes. As learned in the most recent lecture, the median middle class makes between seventy-five thousand to one-hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year, whereas the underclass make on or under thirty thousand dollars a year, most often under (Merritt, 2012). This is quite a significant gap. The underclass is under educated, and under employed. Many people don’t think of whites when they think of those living in poverty, but the realization is that the whites are a growing group of those that are living in poverty. B) What is the White Underclass, and what are the regional (Lakeside, CA) economic changes and forces that account for its growth?
Here in the county of San Diego, Lakeside California specifically, economic change is a leading factor to the growth of the white underclass. Change is inevitable in life, but that change is not always for the better. This is the case with the controversial East County city of Lakeside. Ranchers and farmers were the first inhabitants in the town of Lakeside, and the tight knit community was the proverbial picture of country living. Lakeside is a “place of many generations with deep roots, a place of hard working people with values” (“A Culture of Hate”, 2002). Many people want to hang onto the past, but things in Lakeside have changed dramatically. Dry riverbeds riddled with graffiti and litter has taken the place of where rivers once flowed. Sand mining operations have removed precious resources, only to replace them someone else’s trash. A town that was mostly rural, filled with farms and cowboys, has turned into an urban city with widened streets that are filled with strip malls and fast food restaurants. Economic hard times have hit the working class. With the changes that came to Lakeside, changes in employment opportunities have also been effected. The majority of employment available is in the service industry; low paying, dead-end jobs that have little to no hope of making enough money to help the underclass rise out of poverty. The rate of unemployment is high, currently national rate is 7.8%. California is significantly higher than the national average at 10.2% (www.bls.gov , 2012). With the loss of jobs, and the high unemployment rate that plagues the state, poverty is rising and in turn, so are the numbers of the white underclass. Until the economy changes for the better, there is little hope that the numbers of white underclass will decrease. What are some of the social issues and demographic changes facing the White Underclass? America is no stranger to struggling ethnic groups. Since the beginning of this country, others have strived to cast out groups of people that they didn’t consider equal. In the beginning, it was the Native Americans; next came the blacks. As time progressed on, white European immigrants known as the New Immigrants were discriminated against (Merritt, 2012). Now, though ethnicity still plays an integral part, any group that is at or below the poverty level is subject to acquiring the underclass status. In the mid 90’s, the white underclass were less than 2% of all whites. Black ghettos contained three to four times as many residents as the white slums (“The White Underclass”, 1994). The numbers remained constant from the 1980’s through the 1990’s. The ghettos of the blacks and whites were found to be very similar in percentages. Both had a high number of men that abandoned the work force and children that dropped out of school, however, the black underclass had a slightly higher percentage of female-headed households than the white underclass. The white underclass, however, had a higher percentage of children who dropped out of school (“The White Underclass”, 1994). The demographics are changing in the Grossmont school district as well. It has gone from having 95% white in the district, to 65% in the 2000’s (“A Culture of Hate”, 2002). This has brought on racial issues to the area that once gave little reason to worry about. There are a lot of similarities between the ghettos of different ethnic groups, but there are still very distinct differences among them. Though the conditions of the white ghettos are bad, they are still not as bad as those of the Hispanics and blacks. They tend to experience less poverty than the others, and the crimes being committed in their neighborhoods, albeit violent, are far less in numbers to that of other ethnic groups. The main substance abuse in the black ghettos is crack cocaine, whereas the drug of choice for the whites is alcohol, with methamphetamines and heroine on the rise. This is a factor that heavily contributes to the number of violent crimes and domestic abuse cases that plague the white underclass. Poor whites do not tend to face as many problems as poor blacks, and this is because discrimination has caused the blacks to be more likely to live in extreme poverty than whites. In 1990, a census showed that 30% of blacks lived in extreme poverty areas, whereas the white percentage was only 7% (“The White Underclass”, 1994). Not only are the numbers of white underclass fewer than that of the blacks, but the white underclass are also more likely to leave the slums behind. The white underclass is a growing concern. The numbers are continually raising in the white underclass neighborhoods with no sign of improving. The effects of living in these neighborhoods have ruined the lives of so many. The only hope for the underclass lies with the state of the economy.
How does “White Power” affiliation address the issue of identity for the “White Power” youth in Lakeside, California? What do the signs and symbols of their affiliation represent, and what do they mean to the “White Power” youth?
We’ve seen the many hardships that are faced by the children of the white underclass. We’ve seen what happens to the youth that grow up in these areas. We’ve seen them set up for failure from the moment that their parents conceive them, whether it be on purpose or on accident. We’ve seen the life choices that most of them are forced to make due to the lack of opportunity, but we’ve yet to take a look at how these young men and women choose to affiliate themselves. In the case of the youth in Lakeside, California, the youth of the white underclass have a large affiliation with “White Power”. They have “no place to belong, except in a world of outcasts” (“A Culture of Hate”, 2002).
The children of the white underclass struggle with an ethnic identity. What does it mean to be white? According to Randy Blazak in the documentary “A Culture of Hate”, he believes that these youth have no ethnic identity and struggle because there is no real distinction to being white (“A Culture of Hate”, 2002). “White Power” group members seem to follow a pattern. They come from broken homes, filled with violence and drugs. They have nobody to show them what it is to be a productive member of society. This fits perfectly in line with the patterns of the white underclass found in Lakeside. The symbols of “White Power” represent a symbol of belonging to these kids that had none before (“A Culture of Hate”, 2002). Symbols like the swastika, whose meaning has been poisoned from what it once symbolized to a symbol of evil, a symbol of the desire to create a superior race of whites. Other symbols that have a closer regional significance are the Dago bolts, which are the symbol of the local San Diego chapter of the Hell’s Angels. The Dago bolts are said to be mirrored after the SS bolts of Nazi soldiers, which ties directly to the same lineage as the swastika. The final predominant symbol that can be found “all around the edges of everyday life”, is the 4:20 symbol, which is widely known as a symbol for marijuana, but is also a reference to Adolf Hitler’s birthday (“A Culture of Hate”, 2002). To the “White Power” youth of Lakeside, these symbols represent a sense of belonging, even if they aren’t really sure why. In the documentary “A Culture of Hate”, a young boy talks about a time that he shaved a swastika into the back of his girlfriends head. When he was asked why a swastika, he answered “Why? Because. Why not?” The girl quickly responded with “Nothing else to draw. It was the first thing that popped into our heads.” (“A Culture of Hate”, 2002).
Many of these youth were students in the Grossmont school district, but were kicked out due to incidents where “White Power” symbols were involved. These students were expelled from school due to a “Zero Tolerance” position that the district took, which only made matters worse by pushing these kids closer toward the only identity that they knew (“A Culture of Hate”, 2002). Disintegration of the traditional family, lack of boundaries, lack of guidance, and an unlimited amount of anger drives these kids toward a life of hate. When combined with drugs and alcohol, as it so often happens with the children of the white underclass, the perfect storm is created. Children learn from their parents, parents who choose not to invest in their futures. These fate of these white underclass children have been set, their lives have been set up for failure before they ever even began.