A sharp rejoinder, presented with cool and pitiless logic, to conservative analysis of the largely black urban underclass. Harvard sociologist Wilson (The Truly Disadvantaged, not reviewed; The Declining Significance of Race, 1978) bases much of this work on a comprehensive survey he conducted while at the University of Chicago, where he taught for many years. The ``new urban poverty'' that Wilson describes consists of poor, segregated areas in which most adults either are unemployed or have opted out of the workforce completely. Joblessness has only worsened, even after civil-rights era gains. Yet, unlike such critics of the welfare state as Charles Murray and George Gilder, Wilson traces this urban devolution not simply to a ``culture of poverty,'' but to a more complicated, interacting set of social, structural, cultural, and psychological factors. Underlying accelerated ghetto joblessness has been the US transition from a manufacturing to a service economy—a development that particularly devastated urban blacks, who often possess few of the skills (e.g., computer, oral, and verbal proficiency) needed in the new economy. Other factors worsening this plight (especially for black males) include the removal of jobs from cities to suburbs, the departure from inner cities of a black middle class that offered positive role models, and the rise of single-parent families. But, quoting from interviews with survey participants, Wilson notes that, like society at large, inner-city blacks desperately want to work. He concludes with policy recommendations that, while designed to alleviate inner-city conditions, are race-neutral enough to attract support from the white middle class as well. These recommendations include massive WPA-style jobs creation, expansion of the earned income-tax credit, city-suburban cooperation, and national performance standards in public schools. A sophisticated analysis of a seemingly intractable dilemma that more than justifies Wilson's recent inclusion among Time magazine's group of ``America's 25 Most Influential People.''
Read full book review >