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October 18, 1987|David Bensman

THE TRULY DISADVANTAGED: THE INNER CITY, THE UNDERCLASS, AND PUBLIC POLICY by William Julius Wilson (University of Chicago Press: $19.95; 246 pp.). Poor black neighborhoods are in worse condition than they were 25 years ago despite repeated government efforts to end discrimination and poverty, MacArthur Prize-winning sociologist William Julius Wilson acknowledges at the beginning of this passionate effort to change the way we think about poverty. Conservatives argue that government welfare programs have made poor blacks dependent on handouts, thereby creating a self-perpetuating culture of poverty. Their proposed solution is simple: Force welfare recipients back to work so they will develop self-reliance.

Wilson, chairman of the sociology department at the University of Chicago, bemoans the fact that many liberals echo the conservatives' analyses and proposals, and that many black intellectuals deny that there is increased pathology in inner-city neighborhoods.

The real problem, Wilson argues, is quality of job opportunities for inner-city blacks caused by the decline or flight of old urban industries. Meanwhile, careers in the growing urban-service industries require far more education than most poor blacks possess. When middle-class blacks do move into professional positions, poor blacks become only more isolated.

Wilson advocates a biracial alliance favoring a governmental program to benefit all Americans: sustained economic growth, planning for full employment and the revival of America's manufacturing industries.

"The Truly Disadvantaged" not only assembles a vast array of data gleaned from the works of specialists, it offers much new information and analysis. Wilson has asked the hard questions, he has done his homework, and he has dared to speak unpopular truths.

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