The underclass are those poor people whose status as citizens has become undermined and who are excluded from mainstream society. The members of the underclass do not share a common destiny; they are a mass of individuals, each with personal problems and a personal history of failure. It is not really a social class. There is little solidarity among its members because there is no shared reason for being in it – it is a matter of individual fate. Nevertheless, developments in the workplace are largely responsible for the increasing numbers of its members. The introduction of new technologies has led to a demand for more highly qualified workers, which means not only fewer jobs, but also that those with fewer skills are those who lose out. Unemployed youth fall through the social net that supports only those who subscribe to the work ethic. Foreigners and/or natives constitute another class of social outcasts. Many countries import large numbers of foreign workers but do not integrate them or give them a clearly defined status. They occupy an uncertain social position. They have claims and needs that their host countries are unable to fulfill; they are mostly unwanted, a social burden and often scapegoats for what goes wrong.
The emergence of an conspicuous underclass in response to a change in economic circumstances in industrialized societies, has been met with fear, prejudice, attempts to marginalize them and, eventually, legislation that sought to "punish" the individual rather than accept collective responsibility for them. This contemporary incidence harks back to the end of the Middle Ages, when the rising population was outstripping available land resources, the traditional systems of charity, centred upon the local parish, were breaking down under the pressure, and the able-bodied poor took to the road. The response then was a series of acts that ranged from flogging beggars back to their own parish, branding, and compulsory bondage. The emergence of the urban underclass resulted in the Poor Laws of the 1830s-40s and the Victorian workhouse.
Social outcasts have always made up the lower depths of society, but today they assume new proportions, affecting millions in many countries.