What I’m Reading: The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy, by William Julius Wilson
Author William Julius Wilson has his fans far and wide. He is a National Medal of Science winner. National Book Award winner Ta-Nehisi Coates has called him an intellectual deity, a “gawd;” and David Simon was inspired by his work when creating “The Wire.” Former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said about Wilson: “He has influenced me more than anyone I could think of.”
Not bad for an octogenarian sociologist.
Wilson’s book “The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy” is a short, accessible read that reveals how structures and institutions, especially in American cities like Wilmington, have contributed to the inequitable conditions we see today—and how multifaceted and intergenerational the problems of concentrated poverty are.
Although this book is 28 years old, its principles are still instructive. I still reflect on Wilson’s research, because it helped cement for me that racism is structural and institutional—and that social issues cannot be solved by one sector alone.
The author’s proposed solutions are multi-sector, including ideas around employing the long-term unemployed, and multi-tier neighborhood support programs like the Harlem Children’s Zone, which aims to curb the cycle of generational poverty through parenting workshops, early learning, and child-oriented health programs.
Twenty-eight years later, Wilson’s work serves as a good reminder for those of us who hope to impact these complex issues not to dismiss the history that got us here—and to expand our horizons across sectors.