William Julius Wilson “Being Poor, Black, and American”

Concentrated poverty in America’s cities has been relatively kept out of the spotlight and under the radar for most of America, with many Americans of more modest incomes and from better communities believing it is the fault of the impoverished for their own situation. Disengagement on the part of suburbanites from cities has perpetuated this belief, out of sight out of mind. Until 2005 when this could no longer be swept under the rug. Hurricane Katrina served as an impetus to open the dialogue on what it’s like to be a poor, black American. This catastrophic disaster provided a lens into the reality of those too impoverished, without the means to evacuate.2005HurricaneKatrina12

Areas of concentrated poverty, as existing in areas of New Orleans, are characterized by a large proportion of society where many individuals experience long-term poverty, that lack education and job skills, have disproportionately high rates of unemployment, violence & crime, and are socially isolated from other mainstream institutions. Concentrated areas of poverty isolate residents from interaction with conventional mainstream society and its norms and patterns, as well as interaction with individuals belonging to class and race groups different from their own. Socially isolated neighborhoods limit residents’ access to quality institutions such as schools, libraries, and steady employment. Wilson provides political, economical and cultural reasons for this.

During the post-World War II industrial sector expansion, an influx of blacks moved to cities to join a viable workforce. However, following a subsequent shift from manufacturing jobs to service jobs and relocation of manufacturers from urban areas to suburban areas adversely impacted the employment and mobility opportunities of blacks residing in the inner cities. As more affluent residents followed the jobs to the suburbs, poor residents were forced to stay in a now economically disadvantaged city.

nyc_ghetto_by_homrqtFederal housing policies further aided in the decline of American cities following World War II. The Federal Housing Administration controlled decisions on where subsidies would be offered and the inner city was not one of government’s preferred zones; they deemed these areas as unprofitable and undesirable, limiting interests of potential investors. This and other redlining practices prevented even well qualified home buyers from buying in these ‘high risk’ areas limiting these areas to poor black residents. Highway construction then sealed off the poor urban areas by creating physical barriers hindering entry as well as exit. These highways served as a reason for suburbanites to bypass the downtown areas altogether, adding to the decay of the business and shopping districts.

Out of such poverty and its effects grows an alternative culture deemed by those removed from such environments as ‘black behavior’ rather than a result of adapting to the concentrated poverty and the concentration effects, such as joblessness, delinquency and crime. The “street behavior” of young black males is more of defense mechanism as a reaction to the circumstances in the inner city ghetto rather than what creates the ghetto. It is important to address political, economical and cultural frameworks in order to eradicate areas of concentrated poverty and the deleterious effects associated with it.



One thought on “William Julius Wilson “Being Poor, Black, and American”

  • October 18, 2015 at 5:01 pm

    Urban Renewal grants provide cities with the funds to develop/extend highways, which assisted with “white flight” and the concentration of poor blacks. Many times these highways were built right through viable black communities that had been self sufficient e.g. they had their own stores, banks, business, etc.
    Hurricane Katrina primarily impacted lower income (poor) black women and their children as black women are statistically more likely to have children out of wedlock 7 out of 10 and are also more prone to make less money due to gender pay disparities. The media’s depiction was rather different for certain groups as well. Scholars doing content analysis studies were able to show that when blacks were in stores gathering supplies they were described as “looters” but when whites were in the stores doing the exact same thing the media stated that “they were gathering supplies for survival.” Also, many media outlets covering Hurricane Katrina called the victims “refugees,” which is defined as someone forced to leave their country due to war or natural disaster but the victims were not refugees as they were poor black Americans.

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