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April 13: The Undeserving Poor

April 12, 2016

Dr. Katz-1Social theorist Michael Katz, author of The Undeserving Poor: From the War on Poverty to the War on Welfare (1990) and founder of the urban studies program at the University of Pennsylvania, was born in Wilmington, Delaware on this date in 1939. With a Harvard Ph.D. and a thirty-six-year career at Penn, he wrote more than a dozen books on the history of American social policies and strongly advocated for a social understanding of and social remedies for poverty rather than stigmatization of the poor as personal failures and "undeserving." Eliminating poverty, particularly within the black community, he argued, according to his New York Times obituary, "would require an unflinching look at the history of racism and its effects in the United States: centuries of slavery followed by the failures of Reconstruction, including federal policies that hurt black farmers and forced them into low-wage work in the North; another hundred years of racial discrimination at every level of the law, including access to New Deal programs and the G.I. Bill of Rights; federally sanctioned banking rules that denied loans to blacks; the exodus of manufacturing jobs from American cities in the postwar years; and machine politics that undercut the power of the urban poor, especially the African-American poor."

"The vocabulary of poverty impoverishes political imagination.” —Michael Katz