Analysis of Herbert J Gan’s "The Uses of Poverty"

In the article entitled “The Uses of Poverty: The Poor Pay All,” sociologist Herbert J. Gans discusses the strange alliance between the poor and the wealthy in American society. He states that the underprivileged in essence have kept several vocations in existence such as social work, criminology, and journalism. These vocations serve the double pretense of aiding the less fortunate and protecting society from these same individuals. He compares his analogy with that of Richard K. Merton, who applied the functional analysis theology to explain the prolonged existence of the political machine in urban areas.

Mr. Merton’s reasoning was that the political machine continued to exist because it served several positive functions in society. Mr. Gans applies this same logic to the existence of poverty in a society that had so much material wealth and concluded that poverty had 13 functions in society that was beneficial to non-poor members. They include: making sure that the menial work tasks of society will be taken care of, the creation of jobs that provide aid for the poor, and the existence of the poor keeps the aristocracy busy with charitable works, thus demonstrating charity to the less fortunate and superiority over the elites who chose to spend their free time making more money. He also give several alternatives to poverty such as redistribution of the wealth in society, putting everyone on a more even playing field, but ultimately concluded that poverty will continue to exist because disturbing the unequal balance between the poor and the wealthy in society would prove to be dysfunctional for the affluent and that will not happen.

In a hierarchical society such as in America, there will always be someone on the low end of the totem pole.