When Work Disappears

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

William Julius Wilson has been called President Clinton’s favorite sociologist. A member of the faculty at the University of Chicago for twenty-four years, Wilson left to become a professor at Harvard’s prestigious John F. Kennedy School of Government. His analysis is based on extensive surveys in Chicago’s South Side. WHEN WORK DISAPPEARS: THE WORLD OF THE NEW URBAN POOR contains sixty-six pages of appendices and endnotes as well as many graphs and charts. It reads like a sociology textbook, although, in the interests of wider readership appeal, some chapters have been leavened and spiced with vox-pop quotes representing a spectrum of viewpoints.

Wilson cites well-known factors for the disappearance of inner-city jobs, including black middle-class flight, industrial restructuring, “suburbanization” of employment, foreign competition, and racism. While acknowledging a hard core of felons, drug addicts, alcoholics, and other unemployables, he insists that the majority of inner-city dwellers have the same values and aspirations as other Americans. “There is harsh talk about work instead of welfare,” writes Wilson, “but no talk of where to find it.”

Wilson, a self-styled social democrat, calls for better schools, subsidized child care, and improved public transportation. The cornerstone of his “race-neutral” reforms is modeled after the Depression-era Works Progress Administration (WPA) offering employment for every citizen...

(The entire section is 402 words.)