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When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor
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When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor

3.78 of 5 stars 3.78  ·  rating details  ·  419 ratings  ·  35 reviews
Wilson, one of our foremost authorities on race and poverty, challenges decades of liberal and conservative pieties to look squarely at the devastating effects that joblessness has had on our urban ghettos. Marshaling a vast array of data and the personal stories of hundreds of men and women, Wilson persuasively argues that problems endemic to America's inner cities;from f ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published July 29th 1997 by Vintage (first published 1996)
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The urban poor are happy to take welfare, never work, commit crimes, do drugs, etc. Sound familiar? People love to tout this idea of the urban poor, based on anecdotes, popular TV and movies, and some media approaches. However, Wilson describes, quite convincingly, a world of the urban poor who yearn for the "American Dream" like the rest of us, who want to work, contribute to society, and make their lives (and their children's lives) better, but are simply unable to do so.

This book can get dry
Jun 15, 2007 Andrew rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone who is interested in American poverty.
William Julius Wilson has made arguably the greatest scholarly contributions to the problem of the urban poor of any academic in the last quarter century. Wilson has convincingly demonstrated a spatial mismatch between jobs and the poor who need them, he has highlighted the consequences of the marked changes in out-of-wedlock births and the decline in two-parent families, and he has shown the connection between trends in family formation and joblessness. All the while, Wilson has insisted on cla ...more
H Wesselius
A dry pedestrian read which states the obvious -- unemployment and under education are the cause of urban poverty. In some ways, the book is in your face -- for example the 40% drop in real income for unskilled workers from pre-Reagan to post-Reagan. A closer look at the institutional contributions both gov't and corporate would have provided a narrower focus.

This is an admirable attempt to explicate the structural conditions bedeveling inner-city joblessness & and to proffer policies that would reduce them.

I've read this book several times. Upon this most recent rereading, almost 20 years after its original publication, I found quite a lot in the narrative with which to strongly disagree. But I have the benefit of hindsight.

This book was annihilated in a very good 4200-word review by Joe Klein in The New Republic (Oct. 28, 1996).

The New York
Sabrine Faragallah
This is an excellent, fact based, academically approached discussion on race and poverty in the United States. From my vantage point, the conclusions through the book were not particularly eye-opening, but I recognize that for some it might be. This leads me to the comment that I always make about books addressing social policy. The people who need to read this book, those who continue to spew harsh judgments and can be well versed to influence politicians and public opinion, are unfortunately n ...more
When I first read this book i thought it was fine. It gave a really clear depiction of how racism divided America between the urban poor and affluent white suburbia. It talks about how this divide literally separates the urban poor from jobs out in the suburbs. It goes into great detail of how companies left our cities taking jobs with them and leaving the urban poor with nothing. I thought it was a thorough and eye opening look at the cause of poverty in America.

But Tim Wise's book Colorblind i
William Julius Wilson’s When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor argues that all the problems we associate with the ghetto (e.g. crime, the drug trade) stem from deindustrialization and the subsequent unemployment, as well as government policies favoring the suburbs over the cities. Wilson also examines the role of such factors as: attitudes, family structure, and race. Furthermore, Wilson also offers a comparative analysis of European and American attitudes about poverty, as well a ...more
Using statistics and illustrative interviews, Wilson presents a clear-sighted assessment of the class he designates the urban poor. He expertly balances multiple strands - joblessness, welfare, discrimination, family unity, public education, drug use, motivation, social bonds - in painting a picture of "ghetto" reality. The result is grim and the solutions he presents in the last sections of the book are even further off today than when this book was published well over a decade ago, but the boo ...more
William Julius Wilson is a towering intellectual in the field of sociology who tackles the issues of poverty and joblessness with rigor. His critique of both the liberal and conservative view points about urban youth and the lack of jobs are insightful. He offers pragmatic alternative solutions for both the ordinary citizen and policy-maker to challenge the modern polity. Even Adam Smith would had shuddered at the thought of an economy that might produced mass unemployment and create an undercla ...more
If you have ever wondered why the segregated neighborhoods of America are rampant with crime, drug use, misguided youth and joblessness, Wilson's work offers some answers.

Best taken in small doses.
Marc Shi
Though the book may be slightly dated by now, as an overview of the structural failings that have led to the development of high-poverty neighbourhoods Wilson's work is as fascinating as it is depressing. He is careful to draw on as much empirical research as possible (which albeit probably lends to the slight dryness in his tone), and I particularly like is emphasis on balancing cultural and structural factors. His policy recommendations, while definitely well thought out and nuanced seemed to ...more
the content is a little statistics heavy, which can be monotonous to read at times, and that's what bumped it down a star for me. otherwise, the book is a very interesting look at the factors that contribute to the makeup of the urban poor. contrary to popular belief, those factors are not made up 100% by "bad choices" or a "lack of values." the author contends, quite convincingly, that unequal access to jobs, housing, basic & supplemental services, and educational opportunities are major pl ...more
This is a good book to read if you are curious about poverty and inner city ghettos. The author is a demographer, so he includes a lot of statistics. There are also a lot of qoutes from people who live in these situations. I wouldn't have read it if it hadn't been assigned for a class, but I would say I have a better understanding of what causes poverty and the problems associated with it and what can be done to alleviate it.
This book was written in 1996 and it is amazing how little has changed in terms of the economic prospects of the unskilled and even of the middle class. It remains to be seen whether better health insurance coverage will address some of the drawbacks to moving off welfare and into the workforce.
This is an incredible book. It describes the economic conditions of people trying to makes ends meet in a world where work is scarce. The moral compromises, the failure of the economic and political system to address this and the social circumstances and results. Very good.
Great overview of what makes urban areas appear and how they are formulated. Great read for those interested in present day urban studies and great overview of the history. Another surprising good read. Although, this isn't a beach or vacation read for sure. :)
Sheds light on the incredible challenge surrounding employment/unemployment in central-city areas. Think twice before saying "get a job" as it's not that easy. The historical perspective on white flight to the suburbs and the real definition of "ghetto"
david shin
A very good look at class struggle, income disparity, and the dynamic of changing neighborhoods because of "white flight."

I recommend this to anyone who is remotely interested in urban issues, and wanting to see change in American society.
Read chapter two for a grad class. Wilson covered many factors that contributed to the poverty and isolation of Blacks in inner-cities.

Text was pretty heavy, read like a research article.
John Sibley
A brilliant expose on how structural and institutional capitalism ( and racism)is far more important in determining public policy for the poor than cultural perceptions.
Enjoyed the discussion of structural causes of poverty, but disagree with his lack of emphasis on racial discrimination and some of his examination of behavior.
Going back to the beginning in order to reclaim my ultra liberal leanings that have been lost whilst working in the public library.
Melissa Jeter
Read after undergrad and graduate school. . . essential reading in sociology of race and class.
poverty is a social construct and sadly, as long as we live in a capitalistic society--poverty is seemingly a needed aspect.
Oct 10, 2008 Mark rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Criminology/Sociology geeks
A criminology pseudo-text that details the effects of joblessness on ghetto neighborhoods. A MUST READ!!!! Hehehe.
Aug 22, 2007 Tom rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: People interested in Urban Poverty
Shelves: tomsnon-fiction
I am only just now reading this book, but I'm hooked. It's very accessible, and not too academic despite the subject.
Jacquelyn Courtrell-Washington
I am amazed with how much stagnation has enveloped our society.
Brent Walmsley

To understand American poverty this book is a must read.
Oct 29, 2013 Velvetink marked it as to-read
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William Julius Wilson is one of the leading African-American sociologists in the United States, and a pioneer in the field. He received his PhD from Washington State University, and taught at both the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the University of Chicago before moving to Harvard University. He remains there to this day, with the title of University Professor. Much of Wilson's work disc ...more
More about William Julius Wilson...
The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy More than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner City The Declining Significance of Race: Blacks and Changing American Institutions There Goes the Neighborhood: Racial, Ethnic, and Class Tensions in Four Chicago Neighborhoods and Their Meaning for America Dark Ghetto: Dilemmas of Social Power

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