Date of Award

Spring 1995

Document Type

Restricted Thesis

Terms of Use

© 1995 Veronica Green. All rights reserved. Access to this work is restricted to users within the Swarthmore College network and may only be used for non-commercial, educational, and research purposes. Sharing with users outside of the Swarthmore College network is expressly prohibited. For all other uses, including reproduction and distribution, please contact the copyright holder.

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Black Studies Program, Political Science Department


Major scholars in the field of urban poverty, notably William Julius Wilson, suggest that the contemporary urban ghetto is the result of the structural changes that occurred when technological advances allowed manufacturing interests to move away from the central cities. Wilson characterizes residents of inner-city ghettos as members of the "underclass", a subset of the poor who, because they are isolated from mainstream society and unable to access the mainstream labor market, exhibit "deviant" social behaviors like female headed households, widespread male unemployment and criminality as well as high rates welfare receipt. In his definition of "underclass", Wilson illuminates the ways in which the racism and classism of American society are implicated in the inequalities that led to the rise and maintenance of the ghetto. Furthermore, the image of the underclass as poor, non-white and "deviant" provides the justification for their exploitation and isolation and explains their constant presence on the bottom of the American capitalist hierarchy. In this paper, the author argues that the conditions that created and sustained alley dwellings in Washington, D. C. serve as a case study of a trend of exclusion on the basis of race and class that took place well before these structural shifts in cities across the United States.


alley communities, alley dwellers, underclass, urban poverty, housing policy