The Unconstitutionality of Urban Poverty

79 Pages Posted: 17 Jul 2011 Last revised: 29 Sep 2012

Date Written: September 28, 2012


This Article explores whether the conditions of the urban underclass -- generally those with limited economic opportunity and who are spatially isolated in areas of concentrated poverty in American inner cities -- implicate the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This Amendment formally ended the institution of slavery and the use of African slaves as commodities, property, and instruments of economic production in the United States.

The Amendment also reaches modern circumstances that involve some restraint on liberty. I argue that members the urban underclass, who are functionally restrained both economically and spatially, violate the Thirteenth Amendment. As such, I suggest that Congress must use its significant authority under the Amendment's enforcement clause to order remedial efforts and programs in the urban environment, such as compensatory job training and education, to equip the urban poor with a minimal ability to compete in mainstream society and with the tools for meaningful social and physically mobility.

I arrive at this conclusion by way of an analysis of the history, purpose, and contents of the Thirteenth Amendment, Supreme Court decisions and scholarship related to the Amendment, and sociological studies of the urban underclass. Entrenched urban poverty is discussed today as a sociological, economic, and even moral problem. This Article shows that it is a cognizable constitutional one as well.

Keywords: urban, poverty, underclass, Thirteenth Amendment, Constitution, liberty, mobility

Suggested Citation

Sidhu, Dawinder S., The Unconstitutionality of Urban Poverty (September 28, 2012). DePaul Law Review, Forthcoming, UNM School of Law Research Paper No. 2011-10, Available at SSRN: or

Dawinder S. Sidhu (Contact Author)

Hopwood & Singhal PLLC ( email )

1701 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Suite 200
Washington, DC 20006
United States

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