Tally’s Corner (1967)

Elliot Liebow

Poverty and Literature 2017

Study Guide:

Introduction, Chapter 1 (pp. 1-28)

  • Tally's Corner is a direct response to the 1965 Moynihan Report and its focus on the Negro family as the pathological source of a culture of poverty that is transmitted from generation to generation. 
  • Moynihan focused on women and children. Liebow wanted to focus on the villain of the story: the  father, that shadowy figure drifting in and out of the family's life who has also been absent from studies of the urban family which typically focus on the dependent mother or the delinquent son. (because one threatens our purse and the other threatens our property). 
  • So, most of what we know about the ghetto comes from the interactions of children and mothers with social workers, teachers, probation officers, and bureaucrats who gather information using traditional sociological methods: questionaires, census data, and structured interiviews.The data collected in this manner from women and children have produced caricatures of the streetcorner man as a dead beat dad rather than accurate portraits.
  • So Liebow not only wants to shift the focus of the debate to the adult males, but he also wants to change the way we gather information about these men by meeting them on their own turf and on their own terms: "participant observation" without preconceptions or hypotheses to prove. He hopes to achieve a clear, first hand portrait of lower class urban men: the unskilled construction workers, casual day laborers, the menial workers in the retail or service trades, the unemployed. He wants to observe their day by day routines as they frequent streetcorners, poolrooms, luncheonettes, beer joints, alleys, hallways and private homes. He presents the men the way they see their own roles as breadwinners, fathers, lovers and friends, not as data in support of some sociological model or theory.
  • In so doing he wants to explode stereotypes about the inner city man as unmotivated, lazy, and only oriented towards 'getting his': promiscuous, a substance abuser, potentially violent, and a criminal.  Society typically regards the able-bodied male adult as not needing or deserving societal support. It is also commonly assumed that it is too late to do anything about the values, goals and life styles of these adults who have already been ensnared in the culture of poverty, but  there is still time, perhaps, to effect a change in children. 
  • Why not ask the men themselves about their situation? Let them tell their own stories. 
  • Instead of focusing on the men as carriers of delinquency and dependency (as if the culture of poverty is transmitted like a hereditary trait), this study looks at the contexts in which delinquency and dependency occur. (the environment).

OK, sounds good? Problems?

  • Is he really bringing an objective perspective to this study? He is coming from a left wing ideological position that believes that the solution to the problem of inner city poverty is putting men to work. 
  • Liebow listened to these men for a year and a half and then selected which conversations to include. (Is that science?)
  • Liebow is one of Leonard Duhl's "Space Cadets", and he is also white, married, and middle class, a leftist intellectual hangin' with the homeboys. To what  extent can he truly be objective?
  • How will the black steet corner men regard him? (potential $$$)
  • Liebow is a writer, and basically he is taking a novelist's approach to his subject. Is that an advantage or a disadvantage?
  • Whose voice do you trust more?
    • Hilfiker, the doctor?
    • Lemann, the journalist?
    • Wright, the novelist?
    • Liebow, the rogue sociologist?


Before reading Liebow’s actual report, it is essential to get a clear understanding of his own narrative point of view as well as the historical context in which his book was published.

1. What is ‘urban anthropology’? How does this discipline differ from ‘urban sociology’? (10)

  • "The present study is an attempt to meet the need for recording and interpreting lower-class life of ordinary people, on their grounds and on their terms."...  participant observation rather than  questionnaires or structured interviews
  • Why not ask the men themselves? Let them tell their own stories and so get  a clear, firsthand picture of lower-class Negro men-- especially "streetcorner" blacks:  two dozen Negro men who share a corner in Washington's Second Precinct as a base of operations: unskilled construction workers, casual day laborers, menial workers in retailing or in the service trades, or unemployed.
  • Liebow engaged in twelve months of intensive participant observation in 1962. (Who had this idea of going into the ghetto and actually 'living there' first?)
  • The Setting:  the streetcorner, the alleys, hallways, poolrooms, beer joints and private houses in the immediate neighborhood. Frequently, however, associations which had begun on the streetcorner led Liebow out of the neighborhood to courtrooms, jails, hospitals, dance halls, beaches and private houses elsewhere in Washington, Maryland and Virginia.

2. From whom did Liebow get the funding to support his family while writing this book? (10)

3. Liebow spent twelve months during 1962-63 in downtown Washington D.C. researching his book. What was happening in America nationally during that year?

  • Civil Rights Movement James Meredith U. Of Miss.
  • US Begins Involvement in Vietnam Civil War
  • Cuban Missile Crisis Oct 1962
  • MLK Jr. Letter from Birmingham Jail April 1963
  • NASA Mercury Program
  • Medgar Evers Assassination June 1963
  • JFK in Berlin "Ich bin ein Berliner." June 1963
  • MLK Jr. I Have  a Dream at March on Washington Aug 1963
  • JFK Assassination Nov. 1963

4. Describe the socio-political context of the book’s publication four years later in January 1967.

5. Think about the intellectual and political point of view that Liebow brought to his study:

    • Instead of focusing on the men as carriers of delinquency and dependency (as if the culture of poverty is transmitted like a hereditary trait), this study looks at the contexts in which delinquency and dependency occur. (the environment).
    • The streetcorner man is presented as he sees himself: as bread­ winner, father, husband,  lover and friend. We look at them in much the same way they look at themselves, in roles which are commonly recognized throughout our society
  • How would it be different from typical studies of the urban poor that had been produced by sociologists, the experts of the day? Why had urban black males been ignored?
    • Data collected via interviews and questionaires from women and children produce caricatures rather than accurate portraits.
    • The able-bodied male adult  is seen as not needing or not deserving societal support. 
    • It is commonly assumed that it is too late to do anything about the values, goals and life styles of adults who are already ensnared in the culture of poverty, but  there is still time, perhaps, to effect a change in children.
  • How would the method of his study be radically different from previous reports?
    • participant observation rather than questionnaires or structured interviews
    • Data collected via interviews and questionaires from women and children produce caricatures rather than accurate portraits. 
    • Why not ask the men themselves. Let them tell their own stories. 
  • Does Liebow tip the reader to his ideological point of view from the very outset of his study?
    • Instead of focusing on the carriers of delinquency and dependency (as if the culture of poverty is transmitted like a hereditary trait),  this study looks at the contexts in which delinquency and dependency occur. (the environment)

6. Think about the personal perspective that Liebow inevitably brought to his study:

  • Liebow had been raised in Washington D.C. during the Depression, 
    • He was the son of Jewish working class parents who owned and operated a small grocery store in a predominantly black neighborhood. 
    • Although he had daily encounters with his black neighbors, he was educated at an all white school and played in a segregated playground. 
    • He received a college education, worked to earn a post-graduate degree in sociology, and subsequently gained employment working for the National Institute of Mental Health. 
    • At the time he first visited Tally’s Corner, he was thirty-seven, married, and supporting a family to whom he went home every night.
    • So Liebow is a left wing intellectual with a predetermined ideological perspective.

7. To what extent could a white middle class intellectual bring an utterly objective perspective to his study of black street corner men who had lived most of their lives in this ghetto neighborhood?

8. How would race influence his own behavior and the behavior of the men whom he sought to befriend?

9. To what extent should we treat Liebow as a completely trustworthy narrator? How must we evaluate the ‘truth’ of his observations?

The New Deal Carry-out Shop

10.  Describe the setting where most of the conversations Liebow had with his subjects took place.

  • the New Deal Carry-out shop is on a corner in downtown Washington, D.C.  within walking distance of the White House, the Smithsonian Institution, and other major public buildings of the nation's capital, if anyone cared to walk there, but no one ever does.
  • This is a corner where men can be seen lounging all hours of the day and many hours of the night in a neighborhood with an even mixture of dwelling units (generally old, three­story, red-brick row houses, most of them long since converted to rooming and tenement houses), an occasional apartment house, and small-business establishments such as liquor stores,  grocery stores, barber shops, cleaners, launderettes, beauty parlors, poolrooms, beer joints, carry-out shops, pawnbrokers, and others: a corner grocery, a steeple church or a storefront church, a parking lot, a funeral parlor, or some light commercial enterprise
  • In other words: to what degree is it racially integrated and vertically integrated?
11. Why did Liebow select this neighborhood to study?
  • It is an area with a high incidence of crowded living quarters, poverty, crime, child neglect, and dependence. This particular area, for example, held first position in the Health and Welfare Council's 1960. Index of Social and Economic Deprivation of Neighborhoods in the District of Columbia. It had the highest rate of persons receiving public assistance; the highest rate of illegitimate live births; the highest rate of births not receiving prenatal care; the second highest rate of persons eligible for surplus food; and the third highest rate of applicants eligible for medical assistance.
  • Not everyone, however, is poor, dependent, delinquent, nor are all men in the area to be found, at one time or another, hanging out on the corner or in a beer joint, poolroom or hallway. The man who lives up the street from the Carry- out and works two or three jobs to keep his home and family together may divide all his waking time between home and job, Such a man may be unknown at the Carry-out and at other public places in the area.
12. Describe the central characters of Liebow's study: Tally, Sea Cat, Richard and Leroy.
  • Tally 
    • once a professional  heavyweight  fighter
    • Tally grew up in a single parent family in Atlanta. Tally never went  to school. When he was eleven years old, he began working regularly for wages at such jobs as cleaning up a doctor's office and as dishwasher  in  a  restaurant.  Tally spent most of his teen years in Atlanta, and then, despite his inability to read or write, went into the army.
    • He is a semiskilled construction worker averaging about one hundred dollars a week in take-home pay ($760.00 today) for the six or seven months of the year in which he works regularly.
    • In the eight years he has been in Washington, Tally has lived in the Northeast, Southeast, and Northwest sections of the city. During this same period, he has married and separated and fathered eight children, three with his wife and five others with five different women. 
    • Tally moved into a room in the Carry-out area in the winter of 1961
  • Sea Cat, 
    • Sea Cat is twenty-seven years old. He was born and raised in the Carry-out neighborhood and except for his army service has lived all his life in that area. Sea Cat quit school in the tenth grade. He got married when he was twenty but he has long been separated from his wife and children.
    • Sea Cat is of average  height  and weight. His large white teeth contrast sharply with his dark skin and his long, thick, processed hair.
    • He moves with the easy grace of the athlete, and his sure, quick hands are almost always in evidence, whether he is throwing a ball or a stone around, telling a story with elaborate hand gestures or playing the pinball machine, which he dominates almost effortlessly. An excellent story­ teller, Sea Cat holds his audience as much by his performance as by the content of what he has to say. 
  • Richard 
    • Richard is twenty-four years old. He is about 5'10", thin and muscular. Richard was born and raised in a small town in the Carolinas. He graduated from high school and married a girl who had lived across the street from him since childhood. In 1960 Richard had to leave his hometown suddenly, in the middle of the night, after assaulting (with provocation, according to his own and. his family's account) a local white policeman. His pregnant wife and their small son joined him in Washington a few days later.
    • Richard worked primarily at janitorial jobs but occasionally tried other kinds of work as well. In his first several months in the Carry-out area, Richard built a reputation for himself as a hard­ working  man  who  tried  to  do  his  best  for  his family and as an all-around nice guy. But as time wore on, things changed. Richard got into several fights. In one, he killed a man.
    • People grew afraid of Richard and began to avoid him. Richard dated his troubles from the killing, but they had, in fact, started long, long before.
  • Leroy
    • Leroy is twenty-three years old. He is tall and thin, even thinner than Richard, and somewhat lighter skinned than most of the men in the area.

    • Leroy was an only child. He was born in the South but was raised from early infancy by his maternal grandmother in Chicago. He left high school in his last year and went into the navy. He was by far the most able of all the men in dealing with the written word.

    • Leroy came to the Carry-out neighborhood in the fall of 1961, immediately after his discharge from the navy. He had previously spent a few weekend leaves there with a navy friend whose family lived near the Carry-out. Leroy had never intended to remain in Washington, but somehow, after spending his mustering-out  pay,  he  never got around to going "home," although he always talked of doing so, even after marriage and two children.

    • Most of Leroy's jobs had to do with hotels and parking lots. Most men and women liked Leroy well enough but he was generally considered weak and immature, a "boy" who "talked big" and who, when competing with men, women, or a job, would probably back down before the confrontation or be the loser after it.

13. Can we find Liebow's observations of these characters useful given the ineradicable subjectivity of his own point of view? What valuable benefits can a trained anthropologist bring to the study of this urban culture?

14. What benefits can a talented writer bring to the understanding of these characters?

Chapter Two: "Men and Jobs" (pp 27-71)

1. During the first section of this chapter, Liebow describes a truck driver who is having little success in his efforts to recruit day laborers to work at a construction site. What are the driver’s impressions of the men who turn down the opportunities for work that come their way? What ‘ghetto related traits’ become associated with these men?

  • Lazy, irresponsible men turning down an honest day's pay for an honest day's work? These men  wouldn't take a job if it were handed to them on a platter.
  • It is true that getting a job, keeping a job, and doing well at it is clearly of low priority to the street corner men because... WHY?
  • Or a more complex phenomenon marking the intersection of economic forces, social values and individual states of mind and body?

2. What economic forces, social values and individual situations contribute to a more complete understanding of the situation of these men?

  • Most of the men the driver sees on the street this weekday morning do, in fact, have jobs. But since, at the moment, they are neither working nor sleeping, and since they hate the depressing room or apartment they live in, or because there is nothing to do there or because they want to get away from their wives or anyone else living there, they are out on the street. For instance, Boley collects trash on saturdays, so he has one day of the week off. Sweets works nights as a janitor. Some work in liquor stores that don't open until 10:00 a.m. Some construction workers are off because of the weather. others are off for personal reasons: a funeral or a court appearance
  • The halt and the lame are also sometimes on the corner. The man on the cast-iron steps strokes one gnarled arthritic hand with the other and says he doesn't know whether  or  not  he’ll live long enough to be eligible for Social Security
  • Others, having had jobs and been laid off, are drawing unemployment compensation (up to
    $44 per week) ($337.41 today) (Minimum wage today brings in $36.35 a week in 1962 dollars) and have nothing to gain by accepting work which pays little more than this and frequently less.
  • Still others, like Bumdoodle the numbers man, are working hard at illegal ways of making money, hustlers who are on the street to turn a dollar any way they can: buying and selling sex, liquor, narcotics, stolen goods, or anything else that turns up.
  • Only a handful remains unaccounted for: people like Tonk, Stanton and Arthur: 
    • Tonk cannot bring himself to take a job away from the corner because, according to the other men, he suspects his wife will be unfaithful if given the opportunity.
    • Stanton has not reported to work for four days now, not since Bernice disappeared. He bought a brand new knife against her return.
    •  Arthur, an able bodied man who has no­ visible means of sup­port, legal or illegal, who neither has a job nor wants one.

Objective Factors:

3. How much money do these guys make per week? What does that translate to in 2014 dollars?

  • Objective economic considerations are frequently a controlling factor in a man's refusal to take a job. How much the job pays is a crucial question but seldom asked. He knows how much it pays. 
  • Working as a stock clerk, a delivery boy, or even behind the counter of liquor stores, drug stores and other retail businesses pays one dollar an hour ($7.67 today). So, too, do most busboy, car-wash, janitorial and other jobs available to him. Some jobs, such as dishwasher, may dip as low as eighty cents an hour and others, such as elevator opera­tor or work in a junk yard, may offer $I.I5 ($8.85 today) or $2.25. ($17.25) Take-home pay for jobs such as these ranges from $35 to $50 a week ($268- $383 today), but a take-home pay of over $45 ($345 today) for a five-day week is the exception rather than the rule. 
  • Minimum wage today pays $1105 a month or $145.42 in 1962 dollars. That's $36.45 a week in 1962 dollars.

4. Why is getting and keeping a service job a low priority on the corner?

  • Arthur will not ot take a job at all. 
  • Leroy is supposed to be on his job at 4:00 P.M. but it is already 4:10 and he still cannot bring himself to leave the free games he has accumulated on the pinball machine in the Carry-out. 
  • Tonk started a construction job on Wednesday, worked Thursday and Friday, then didn't go back again. 
  • On the same kind of job, Sea Cat quit in the second week. 
  • Sweets had been working three months as a bus­ boy in a restaurant, then quit without notice, not sure himself why he did so. 
  • A real estate agent, saying he was more interested in getting the job done than in the cost, asked Richard to give him an estimate on repairing and painting the inside of a house, but Richard, after looking over the job, somehow never got around to submitting an estimate.
  • Thus, the man-job relationship is a tenuous one. WHY? 

5. How is a "stealing factor" built into wages for retail jobs in the neighborhood?

  • the 'wage/theft' relationship: A seemingly important advantage of working in hotels, restaurants, office and apartment buildings and retail establishments is that they frequently offer an opportunity for stealing on the job. But stealing can be a two-edged sword. Apart from increasing the cost of the goods or services to the general public, a less obvious result is that the practice usually acts as a depressant on the employee's own wage level. Owners of small retail establishments and other employers frequently anticipate employee stealing and adjust the wage rate accordingly.
  • Thus, in an actual if not in a legal sense, all the elements of entrapment are present. The employer knowingly provides the conditions which entice (force) the employee to steal the unpaid value of his labor, but at the same time he punishes him for theft he catches him doing so.
  • Further, stealing is not the type of activity to build a man's self esteem: He cannot draw on what he steals to build his self­-respect or to measure his self-worth. For this, he can draw only on his earnings-- the amount given him publicly and voluntarily in exchange for his labor.
  • Finally and most importantly, menial jobs in retailing or in the service trades simply do not pay enough to support a man and his family. ($45 -50 a week) This is not to say that the worker is underpaid; this may or may not be true. Whether he is or not, the plain fact is that, in such a job, he cannot make a living. Nor can he take much comfort in the fact that these jobs tend to offer more regular, steadier work.

6. Why are even higher paying construction jobs not very attractive?

  • Construction work, even for unskilled laborers, usually pays better, with the hourly rate ranging from $1.50 to $2.60 an hour.  Importantly, too, good references, a good driving record, a tenth grade (or any high school) education, previous experience, the ability to "bring police clearance with you" are not normally required of laborers as they frequently are for some of the jobs in re­tailing or in the service trades. 
  • It is, first of all, seasonal work for the great bulk of the laborers, beginning early in the spring and tapering off as winter weather sets in.7       And even during the season the work is frequently irregular. So a two or three day work week is typical for the pick-and-shovel  men  and other un­skilled labore.r
  • As the project moves from one construction stage to another, laborers-- usually without warning--  are laid off, sometimes permanently or sometimes for weeks at a time. The more fortunate or the better workers are told periodically to "take a walk for two, three days."
  • Job competition is always fierce. In the city, the large construction projects are union­ized. One has to have ready cash to get into the union to become eligible to work on these projects and, being eligible, one has to find an opening.
  • Without access to a car or to a car-pool arrangement, it is not worthwhile reading the ad. So the men do not. Jobs such as these are usually filled by word of mouth information, beginning with someone who knows someone or who is himself working there and looking for a paying rider.  Furthermore,  nonunion  jobs  in  outlying areas tend  to be  smaller projects  of  relatively short duration  and to pay  somewhat less than scale.
  • For some men, whether the job be digging, mix­ing mortar, pushing a wheelbarrow, unloading materials,  carrying  and  placing  steel rods  for reinforcing concrete, or building or laying con­crete forms, the work is simply too  hard. 
  • For Leroy, in his early twenties, almost six feet tall but weighing under 140 pounds, it would be as difficult to push a loaded wheelbarrow, or to unload and stack 96 pound bags of cement all day long, as it would be for Stoopy with his withered leg.
  • Machines now set the pace formerly set by men. Formerly, a laborer pushed a wheelbarrow of wet cement to a particular spot, dumped it, and returned for another load. Another laborer, in hip  boots, pushed the wet concrete around with a shovel or a hoe, getting it roughly level in preparation for the skilled finishers. He had relatively small loads to contend with and had only to keep up with the men pushing the wheelbarrows. Now, the job for the man pushing the wheelbarrow is gone and the wet concrete comes rushing down a chute at the man in the hip boots who must "spread it quick or drown."
  • How did Tonk and Sea Cat do when they took construction jobs? What about Richard?
7. How does Liebow summarize the objective obstacles to gaining employment for many of the men on the corner?
  •  A man who is able and willing to work cannot earn enough money to support himself, his wife, and one or more children. 
  • A man's chances for working reg­ularly are good only if he is willing to work for less than he can live on, and sometimes not even then. 
  • On some jobs,  the wage rate is deceptively higher  than  on  others,  but  the  higher  the wage rate, the more difficult it is to get the job, and the less the job security. 
  • Higher-paying  construction work tends to be seasonal and, during the season, the amount of work available is highly  sensitive to business and weather conditions and to the changing requirements of individual projects.  
  • Moreover, high-paying construction jobs are fre­quently beyond the physical capacity of some of the men, and some of the low-paying jobs are scaled down even lower in accordance with the self-fulfilling assumption that the man will steal part of his wages on the job.
Psychological Factors

8. What psychological factors contribute to the lack of interest in work?

  • Each man comes to the job with a long job history characterized by his not being able to support himself and his family. Each man carries this knowledge, born of his experi­ence, with him. He comes to the job flat and stale, wearied by the sameness  of it all, convinced of his own incompetence,  terrified  of  responsibility-- of being tested still again and found wanting. 
  • Possible exceptions are the younger men not yet, or just, married. They suspect all this but have yet to have it confirmed by repeated personal experience over time. 
  • But those who are or have been married know it well. It is the experience of the individual and the group; of their fathers and probably their sons. Convinced of their inadequa­cies, not only do they not seek out those few better-paying jobs which test their resources, but they actively avoid them, gravitating in a mass to the menial, routine jobs which offer no challenge-- and therefore pose no threat-- to the already diminished images they have of themselves.
  • So a self-fulfilling prophecy is at work: the man's low self-esteem generates a fear of being tested and prevents him from ac­cepting a job with responsibilities or, once on a job, from staying with it if responsibilities are thrust on him, even if the wages are commen­surately highe
  • To the streetcorner man, "A job is a job.": Among the men, there is no overt interest in job specifics as they relate to this or that person, in large part perhaps because the specifics are not especially relevant. To know that a man is working is to know approximately how much he makes and to know as much as one needs or wants to know about how he makes it After all, how much dif­ference does it make to know whether a man is pushing a mop and pulling trash in an apartment house, a restaurant, or an office building, or deliv­ering groceries, drugs, or liquor, or, if he's a la­borer, whether he's pushing a wheelbarrow, mix­ing mortar, or digging a hole. 

7. What is society’s attitude towards the value of the jobs available to these men? (Look at Tally's description of his job as a cement finisher.)

  • The streetcorner man puts no lower value on the job than does the larger society around him. He knows the social value of his job as a janitor, cashier or retail worker by the amount of money the employer is willing to pay him for doing it. In a real sense, every pay day, he counts in dollars and cents the value placed on the job by society at large.
  • Both employee and employer are contemptuous of the job. The employee shows his contempt by his reluctance to accept it or keep it, the employer by paying less than is required to support a family.
  • Nor does the low-wage job offer prestige, respect, interesting work, oppor­tunity for learning or advancement, or any other compensation. 
  • Another and more important reason for the streetcorner man's lack of interest in work is the emptiness of the job experience itself. The man sees middle-class occupations as a primary source of prestige, pride and self-respect; his own job af­fords him none of these. To think about his job is to see himself as others see him, to remind him of just where he stands in this society.

8. What kind of future can the worker expect even if he excels at his job?

  • With few exceptions, the jobs  filled by the streetcorner men are at the bottom of the employment ladder in every respect, from wage level to prestige. Typically, they are hard, dirty, uninteresting and underpaid.
  • Furthermore, the man does not have any rea­sonable expectation that, however bad it is, his job will lead to better things. Menial jobs are not, by and large, the starting point of a track system which leads to even better jobs for those who are able and willing to do them.
  • Tally: "Look, can anybody do what you're doing? Can anybody just come up and do your job? Well, in one week I can teach you cement finishing. You won't be as good as me 'cause you won't have the experience but you'll be a cement finisher. That's what I mean. Anybody can do what I'm doing and that's what gives me this feeling. [Long pause] Suppose I like this girl. I go over to her house and I meet her father. He starts talking about what he done today. He talks about operating on somebody and sewing them up and about surgery. I know he's a doctor 'cause of the way he talks. Then she starts talking about what she did. Maybe she's a boss or a supervisor. Maybe she's a lawyer and her father says to me, 'And what do you do, Mr. Jack­ son?' [Pause]  You remember at the courthouse, Lonny's trial? You and the lawyer was talking in the hall? You remember? I just stood there listening. I didn't say a word. You know why? 'Cause I didn't even know what you was talking about."

9. What ‘ghetto related traits’ become associated with these men?

  • Delivering little, and promising no more, the job is "no big thing." The man appears to treat the job in a cavalier fashion, working and not working as the spirit moves him, as if all that matters is the immediate satisfaction of his present appe­tites, the surrender to present moods, and the in­dulgence of whims with no thought for the cost, the consequences, the future. To the middle-class observer, this behavior reflects a "present-time ori­entation"-- an "inability to defer gratification." It is this "present-time" orientation-- as against the "future orientation" of the middle-class person--  that "explains" to the outsider why Leroy chooses to spend the day at the Carry-out rather than re­port to work; why Richard, who was paid Friday, was drunk Saturday and Sunday and penniless Monday; why Sweets quit his job today because the boss looked at him "funny" yesterday. 
  • But from the inside looking out, what appears as a "present-time" orientation to the outside ob­server is, to the man experiencing it, as much a future orientation as that of his middle-class counterpart. The difference between the two men lies not so much in their different orienta­tions to time as in their different orientations to future time or, more specifically, to their different future
  • The future orientation of the middle-class per­son presumes, among other things, a surplus of resources to be invested in the future and a belief that the future will be sufficiently stable both to justify his investment (money in a bank, time and effort in a job, investment of himself in marriage and family, etc.) and to permit the consumption of his investment at a time, place and manner of his own choosing and to his greater satisfaction.
  • Living on the edge of both economic and psychological subsistence, the streetcorner man is obliged to expend all his resources on maintaining  himself  from  moment to  moment
  • It is a future in which everything is uncertain except the ultimate destruction of his hopes and the eventual realization of his fears.
  • Thus, apparent present-time concerns with con­sumption and indulgences-- material and emo­tional-- reflect a future-time orientation. "I want mine right now" is ultimately a cry of despair, a direct response to the future as he sees it.

10. What influence do inconsistent unemployment, low self-esteem, and financial instability have on the family relationships of these men?

  • The situation contributes importantly to the instability of employment, family and friend relationships, and to the gen­eral transient quality fo daily lifef
  • His constant awareness of a future loaded with "trouble" results in a constant readi­ness to leave, to "make it," to "get out of town," and discourages the man from sinking roots into the world he lives in.  Just as it discourages him from putting money in the bank, so it discourages him from committing himself to a job, especially one whose payoff lies in the promise of future re­wards rather than in the present. In the same way, it discourages him from deep and lasting commitments to family and friends or to any other persons, places or things, since such com­mitments  could  hold  him  hostage,  limiting  his freedom of movement and thereby compromis­ing his security which lies in that freedom.