Are Policymakers Failing ‘The Truly Disadvantaged’

In his 1987 book, The Truly Disadvantaged, William Julius Wilson upended urban research with his ideas about how cities had transformed in the post-civil-rights period. Writing to explain the rise of concentrated poverty in black inner-city neighborhoods after 1970, he focused on the loss of manufacturing jobs and the flight of black working- and middle-class families, which left ghettos with a greater proportion of poor people. And he examined the effects of extreme poverty and “social isolation” on their lives. Twenty-five years after its publication, The Truly Disadvantaged is back in the spotlight, thanks to a flurry of high-profile publications and events that address its ideas. But as scholars break new ground, is anybody listening? Today, recent research has convinced Wilson that Americans support a level playing field. In speaking about public policy, people should frame programs as vehicles for the poor to help themselves, he now believes. They should spell out problems. And they should not shy away from talking about race.

The Chronicle of Higher Education

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