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When Work Disappears : The World of the New Urban Poor Paperback – July 29, 1997

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Editorial Reviews Review

An unofficial adviser to President Bill Clinton, Wilson has become a celebrity of sorts. A former University of Chicago professor, Wilson--currently on staff at Harvard--has been profiled in The New Yorker and dubbed one of America's most influential people by Time magazine. A respected thinker on issues of race and poverty, the author of The Declining Significance of Race and The Truly Disadvantaged offers his take on welfare and inner-city joblessness in When Work Disappears. Racism, Wilson argues, plays increasingly less of a role in urban problems. More significant, he claims, are changes in the global economy and the disappearance of unskilled but decent-paying jobs near cities; according to Wilson, these factors have deprived the urban working class of steady jobs, destroyed inner-city businesses, and caused younger, upwardly mobile residents to flee for the suburbs. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Record levels of unemployment and disappearing jobs in inner-city neighborhoods are the root cause of poverty and social distress among African Americans, contends Wilson, an eminent University of Chicago sociology professor. A galvanizing blueprint for concerned citizens and policy makers, his scholarly study focuses on Chicago's inner-city poor, using three surveys he conducted between 1987 and 1993. Wilson (The Truly Disadvantaged) sees a direct link between growing joblessness and what he calls ghetto-related behavior and attitudes?fatherless children born out of wedlock, drugs, crime, gang violence, hopelessness?but unlike those who blame a "culture of poverty," he emphasizes that structural changes can effect a turnaround. His plan to reverse declining employment and social inequality includes proposals for city-suburban collaboration, private-sector partnerships with public schools, national health insurance, and time limits on welfare for able-bodied recipients combined with guaranteed jobs in a public-works program modeled on the New Deal's Works Progress Administration.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 322 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st edition (July 29, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679724176
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679724179
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #121,299 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

70 of 73 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 15, 1998
Format: Paperback
I wish to write this review primarily as a repudiation of the completely inaccurate review written by this site's political editor. The unnamed reviewer's main hypothesis was that When Work Disappears fails to answer two main questions: 1) the reason for the exodus of jobs from the inner city, and 2) the question of whether inner-city black males are willing to work, regardless of the availability of jobs. I find it difficult to believe that any reasoning person could have made such a statement after reading When Work Disappears. Indeed, a brief scan of the table of contents would reveal that a substantial portion of the book was devoted to answering these very questions. The reviewer's first assertion was that there was a "chicken or the egg" dilemma concerning the exodus of inner-city jobs and the social dysfunction of inner-city residents. Did the exodus of jobs cause aberrant behavior, or did aberrant behavior cause the exodus of jobs? I wish to state fir! ! stly, that a comparison of the conditions of inner-city neighborhoods in the 1940's and 1950's when people were working, to the conditions of these communities today should be sufficient to answer this question without the aid of a work as extensive as When Work Disappears. Nonetheless, this rather obvious question is not overlooked by Wilson, as the reviewer suggests, but is extensively and repeatedly explored.Read more ›
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Matt Davis on October 29, 2001
Format: Paperback
I think there are two major problems with theories that attempt to explain black poverty as something completely or primarily due to welfare, "culture", or genetics: first, they seem to lack a comprehensive understanding of African-American history. Second, from everything I've seen, such theories totally ignore the very similar conditions experienced by other ethnic/national minority groups in many advanced as well as developing countries (ex: Gypsies, Maori, Aboriginies, etc.). On the other hand, an author such as Wilson offers a very refreshing insight into the conditions of the urban poor. While his policy prescriptions call for a much stronger, activist government, the focus of this book is the analysis of the current conditions of the black urban poor and how it reached it's current state. In that sense, it should be accesible to all political stripes. Also, this book is not in any way a "marxist" critique; it never criticizes American or global "capitalism" as the cause of the poor's suffering. The citing of socio-economic factors, such as technological and industrial changes, as a major factor in the deteriorating conditions of the urban poor is quite a different thing than stating that one can only solve such problems by overthrowing capitalism (this is a marxist perspective, not Wilsons). Also, the author's analysis does not lack addressing issues of "personal responsibility" or cultural, behavioral norms. On the contrary, he takes these very sensitive issues head-on and concludes that in some important ways there is a distinctive sub-culture (a "culture of poverty"), but not for the reasons some intellectuals assert (welfare, genetics, etc.). Differing social norms concerning work ethic, education, attitudes at work, etc.Read more ›
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Paul M. Day on January 9, 2006
Format: Paperback
I found this to be one of the best discussions on urban poverty, and certainly one of the most balanced. I could go on about what I like about the book, but the other reviews do that justice.

I did not have much of a problem with his analysis of urban poverty. Wilson is right on when he blames a lack of jobs, transportation, adequate social support (including the lack of universal healthcare and childcare subsidies), and the cultural conditions created by unemployment as causes of urban poverty. However, like many sociologists and economists, he assumes post industrialist conceptions of these problems. For instance, he cites the "skills bias" as one of the major causes of a lack of jobs for poor, unskilled workers. He rehashes the common view that job loss can be attributed to our post-industrial economy that simply requires people to go to college and get more and more education. However, subsequent sociologists (namely, Michael Handel from the University of Wisconsin) have dismissed the skills bias as a bit of a myth that is used to distract people from the actual problem. If Wilson would have written his book a couple years later, he would have seen how job loss in the high technology sectors of the economy and the high unemployment rates for college graduates make it hard to believe that our economy has a skills bias. However, Wilson does acknowledge the other causes of job loss, including the trade deficit and off shoring production as more realistic causes of poverty.

My major problem is with his policy prescriptions, which like most establishment social scientists fall within the mainstream thinking.
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