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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

3.79  ·  Rating Details  ·  489 Ratings  ·  38 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 ...more
ebook, 352 pages
Published June 8th 2011 by Vintage (first published 1996)
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Nov 02, 2008 Jason rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 19, 2016 Ed rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

This is an admirable attempt to explain what Wilson calls the structural problems besetting Chicago's inner-city black residents & and to proffer remedies for those problems.

I've read this book several times over the last 20 years and with the passing of those years I find myself increasingly unpersuaded of Wilson's diagnosis of the problem(s)--beginning with his notion that it should be understood as structural.

Joe Klein wrote a very good, negative 4200-word review of this book in The New
Jun 15, 2007 Andrew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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
Feb 11, 2011 Gloria rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 14, 2015 Louis rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 14, 2011 Michelle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 15, 2012 Alfresco rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Marc Shi
Jul 08, 2011 Marc Shi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 18, 2015 Rachel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some really bizarre syntax, semantics, and reasoning--including an implicit denial that internalized racism can exist and a number of arguments I truly could not follow--but worth reading, not least for the rich interview and other data included.
Jul 31, 2016 Nora rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: school, 2016
Not a happy book but an extremely important one.
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
Mar 10, 2008 Hayley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Mar 09, 2013 Miriam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Apr 02, 2011 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Oct 24, 2008 Jessica rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 09, 2007 david shin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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.
Sep 05, 2015 Trip rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wilson wrote this book 19 years ago, but it's still worth a serious read. For fans of The Wire, David Simon has said in several interviews that Wilson's book influenced how he and his team wrote Season Two of the show.
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.
Randie D. Camp, M.S.
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
Dec 20, 2012 John Sibley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Feb 23, 2008 Toby rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Aug 02, 2010 Louisa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 21, 2013 Melissa Jeter rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read after undergrad and graduate school. . . essential reading in sociology of race and class.
Jul 28, 2007 Seven rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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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
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“Their analysis clearly revealed the existence of a color line that effectively blocked black occupational, residential, and social mobility. They demonstrated that any assumption about urban blacks duplicating the immigrant experience had to confront the issue of race.” 0 likes
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