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Last Updated on September 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 475

In The Truly Disadvantaged, Wilson examines examines the combination of forces that produce persistent, racialized urban poverty.

Race-Blind Measures as a Solution to Urban Poverty

Wilson is interested in the extent to which this kind of poverty should be understood and addressed in terms of race, or class, or...

(The entire section contains 475 words.)

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In The Truly Disadvantaged, Wilson examines examines the combination of forces that produce persistent, racialized urban poverty.

Race-Blind Measures as a Solution to Urban Poverty

Wilson is interested in the extent to which this kind of poverty should be understood and addressed in terms of race, or class, or some kind of combination. Citing the dramatic decrease in overt racial bigotry and the way in which race-specific attempts to address the problem generate backlash, Wilson argues in favor of race-blind measures to help all low-income people or fully universal measures that depend on neither class nor race. Written in 1978, The Truly Disadvantaged deals with the question of how to talk about the state of poor black Americans after the civil rights movement had passed and seemingly succeeded. In the decades sense its publication, the ideas of systemic racism and color-blind racism have both been developed to understand the ways in which racism continued to dramatically effect the lives of black Americans. The Truly Disadvantaged represents an early and highly influential work in the opposite camp: framing ongoing racism as largely irrelevant or nonexistent.

Social and Economic Isolation as Causes of Urban Poverty

Wilson is also very interested in exploring the extent to which intergenerational racialized urban poverty can be traced to individual, cultural, or structural/institutional roots. With much of his focus on rates of violent crime and of single mothers (and other characteristics identified by the Moynihan report of 1965), Wilson argues strongly that while individual choices and the cultures that develop in specific areas are relevant to these questions, neither is truly a root cause, as both are produced by largely structural and institutional factors. Specifically, Wilson points to a kind of social and economic isolation as the root cause of these other symptoms. These arguments are important because Wilson was writing in a time when many would try to blame poor black Americans for their position, citing race-based cultural or individual tendencies toward crime, irresponsibility, and so on. While some might be frustrated that Wilson does not make a stronger break from such racist arguments, he attempts to carve a path that blames neither ongoing racism nor black Americans for intergenerational urban black poverty.

The Effect of Assimilation on Urban Poverty

The core of Wilson's argument in The Truly Disadvantaged is that as more wealthy black Americans were able to assimilate into the middle and upper class, historic black urban communities became more full of people facing poverty. This effect was magnified by the fact that industrial jobs were largely pulling out of cities at the same time, and these economic shifts led to the collapse of social institutions. Wilson points to these as the root causes of the kind of intergenerational poverty he studies and of the cultural characteristics, such as single mothers and high rates of crime, that others might frame as root causes.

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