2-Pane Combined
Full Summaries Sorted

Wilson More Than Just Race 2


poverty in New Orleans. When television cameras focused on the flooding, the people trapped in houses and apartments, and the vast devastation, many Americans were shocked to see the squalid living conditions of the poor. Of course, the devastation of Katrina was broadly visited upon the residents of New Orleans-black and white, rich and poor, property owner and public housing tenant alike. But although many residents were able to flee, the very poor, lacking automobiles or money for transportation and lodging, stayed to wait out the storm, with tragic results. And through Katrina, the nation's attention became riveted to these poor urban neigh borhoods.

Some people argued that Katrina demonstrated how foolhardy it is to rely on the government for protection rather than on oneself and control of one's own fate. However, it is unfair and indeed unwarranted to blame people with limited resources for being trapped in their neighborhoods and vulnerable to natural disasters. People who reside in these poor, ghetto neighborhoods include notonly those on public assistance, but also the working poor, many of whom have never been on welfare.

The fact that many families in the inner city of New Orleans were trapped there during Katrina because they did not have access to automobiles and other means of transportation is a problem that is not unique to New Orleans. For example, research conducted in the Chicago inner-city ghetto areas revealed that only 19 percent of the residents have access to an automobile. I A person in these segregated and highly concentrated poverty areas could be very disciplined and responsible, working every day for minimum wages and barely making ends meet, in no position to buy and maintain an automobile; and by virtue of his or her low income, that person would be completely dependent on public transportation. No one in such a situation could quickly relocate his or her family to other areas.

The Forces Shaping Concentrated Poverty


If television cameras had focused on the urban poor in New Orleans, or on any inner-city ghetto, before Katrina, I believe that the initial reaction to descriptions of poverty and poverty concentration would have been unsympathetic. Public opinion polls in the United States, as weshall soon see, routinely reflect the notion that people are poor and jobless because of their own shortcomings or inadequacies. In other words, few people would have reflected on how the larger forces in SOCiety-segregation, discrimination, a lack of economic opportunity, failing public schools-adversely affect the inner-city poor. However, because Katrina was clearly a natural disaster beyond the control of the inner-city poor, Americans were much more sympathetic. In a sense, Katrina turned out to be something of a cruel natural experiment, wherein better-off Americans could readily see the effects of racial isolation and chronic economic subordination.

Despite the lack of national public awareness of the problems of the urban poor prior to Katrina, social scientists have rightly devoted considerable attention to concentrated poverty because it magnifies the problems associated with poverty in general: joblessness, crime, delinquency, drug trafficking, broken families, and dysfunctional. schools. Neighborhoods of highly concentrated poverty are seen as dangerous, and therefore they become isolated, socially and economically, as people go out of their way to avoid them.i'

If social scientists are to effectively and comprehensively explain the experiences and social outcomes of inner-city residents to the larger public, they must consider not only how explicit racial structural forces directly contribute to inequality and concentrated poverty, but also how political actions and impersonal economic forces indirectly affect life in the inner city. Also important are the effects of national racial beliefs and cultural constraints that have emerged from years of racial isolation and chronic economic subordination.

shapeType75fBehindDocument1pWrapPolygonVertices8;8;( 7487,21500);(6987,21500);(6987,344);(0,344);(0,0);(21500,0);(21500,688);(7487,688)posrelh0posrelv0pib

The Role of Political Actions

Ever since 1934, with the establishment of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), a program necessitated by the massive mortgage foreclosures during the Great Depression, the US government has sought to enable citizens to become home owners by underwriting mortgages. In the years following World War II, however, the federal government contributed to the early decay of inner-city neighborhoods by withholding mortgage capital and making it difficult for these areas to retain or attract families who were able to purchase their own homes. Spurred on by the massive foreclosures during the Great Depression, the federal government began underwriting mortgages in an effort to enable citizens to become home owners. But the FHA selectively administered the mortgage program by formalizing a process that excluded certain urban neighborhoods by using empirical data that suggested a likely loss of investment in these areas.

Redlining, as this practice came to be known, was assessed largely on racial composition. Although many neighborhoods with a considerable number of European immigrants were redlined, virtually all black neighborhoods were excluded. Home buyers hoping to purchase a home in a red lined neighborhood were universally denied mortgages, regardless of their financial qualifications. This practice severely restricted opportunities for building or even maintaining quality housing in the inner city, which in many ways set the stage for the urban blight that many Americans associate with black neighborhoods. This action was clearly motivated by racial bias, and it was not until the 1960s that the FHA discontinued mortgage restrictions based on the racial composition of the neighborhood.'

Subsequent policy decisions worked to trap blacks in these increasingly unattractive inner cities. Beginning in the 1950s, the suburbanization of the middle class, already under way with government-subsidized loans to veterans, was aided further by federal transportation and highway policies, which included the building of freeway networks through the hearts of many cities. Although these policies were seemingly nonracial, the line here between ostenSibly nonracial and explicitly racial is gray. For example, we might ask whether such freeways would have also been constructed though wealthier white neighborhoods.

In any case, the freeways had a devastating impact on the neighborhoods of black Americans. These developments not only spurred relocation from the cities to the suburbs among better-off residents, but the freeways themselves "created barriers between the sections of the cities, walling off poor and minority neighborhoods from central business districts." For instance,'a number of studies revealed how Richard]' Daley, the former mayor of Chicago, used the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 to route expressways through impoverished African American neighborhoods, resulting in even greater segregation and isolation." A lasting legacy of that policy is the fourteen-lane Dan Ryan Expressway, which created a barrier between black and white neighborhoods.6

Another particularly egregious example of the deleterious effects of highway construction is Birmingham, Alabama's, interstate highway system, which curved and twisted to bisect several black neighborhoods rather than taking a more direct route through some predominantly white neighborhoods. The highway system essentially followed the boundaries that had been established in 1926 as part of the city's racial zoning law, although these boundaries technically had been removed a few years before the highway construction began in 1956.7 Other examples include the federal and state highway system in Atlanta, Georgia, which also separated white and black neighborhoods; and the construction of I-95 in Florida, which displaced many black residents in Miami's historically black Overtown neighborhood.f

Moreover, through its housing-market incentives, the federal government drew middle-class whites away from cities and into the suburbs." Government policies such as mortgages for veterans and mortgage-interest tax exemptions for developers enabled the quick, cheap production of massive amounts of tract housing.' ? Although these policies appeared to be nonracial, they facilitated the exodus of white working and middle-class families from urban neighborhoods and thereby indirectly contributed to the growth of segregated neighborhoods with high concentrations of poverty.

A classic example of this effect of housing-market incentives is the mass-produced suburban Levittown neighborhoods that were first erected in New York, and later in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Puerto Rico, by Levitt & Sons. The homes in these neighborhoods were manufactured on a large scale, with an assemblyline model of production, and they were arranged in carefully engineered suburban neighborhoods that included many public amenities, such as shopping centers and space for public schools. These neighborhoods represented an ideal alternative for people seeking to escape cramped city apartments, and they were often touted as "utopian communities" that enabled people to live out the "suburban dream." Veterans were able to purchase a Levittown home for a few thousand dollars with no money down, financed with low-interest mortgages guaranteed by the Veterans Administration. However, initially the Levitts would not sell to African Americans. The first black family moved into the New York Levittown neighborhood in 1957, having purchased a home from a white family," and they endured harassment, hate mail, and threats for several months after moving in. Levittown, New York, remains a predominantly white community today. Here,

"_ r •• _ ~

once again, we see a practice that denied African Americans the opportunity to move from segregated inner-city neighborhoods.

Explicit racial policies in the suburbs reinforced this segregation by allowing suburbs to separate their financial resources and municipal budgets from cities. To be more specific, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, strong municipal services in cities were very attractive to residents of small towns and suburbs; as a result, cities tended to annex suburbs and surrounding areas. But the relations between cities and suburbs in the United States began to change following the Great Depression; the century-long influx of poor migrants who required expensive services and paid relatively little in taxes could no longer be profitably absorbed by the city economy. Annexation largely ended in the mid-twentieth century as suburbs began to successfully resist incorporation. Suburban communities also drew tighter boundaries by implementing zoning laws, discriminatory land use controls, and site selection practices, which made it difficult for inner-city racial minorities to access these areas because they were effectively used to screen out residents on the basis of race.

As separate political jurisdictions, suburbs also exercised a great deal of autonomy through covenants and deed restrictions. In the face of mounting pressure for integration in the 1960s, "suburbs chose to diversify by race rather than class. They retained zoning and other restrictions that allowed only affluent blacks (and in some instances Jews) to enter, thereby intensifying the concentration and isolation of the urban poor." 12 Although these policies clearly had racial connotations, they also reflected class bias and helped reinforce a process already amply supported by federal government policies-namely, the exodus of white working- and middle-class families from urban neighborhoods and the growing segregation of low-income blacks in inner-city neighborhoods.

Federal public housing policy contributed to the gradual growth of segregated black ghettos as well. The federal public housing program's policies evolved in two stages that represented two distinct styles. The Wagner-Steagall HousingAct of 1937 initiated the first stage. Concerned that the construction of public housing might depress private rent levels, groups such as the US Building and Loan League and the National Association of Real Estate Boards successfully lobbied Congress to require, by law, that for each new unit of public housing, one "unsafe or unsanitary" unit of public housing be destroyed. As Mark Condon points out, "this policy increased employment in the urban construction market while insulating private rent levels by barring the expansion of the housing stock available to low-income families." 13

The early years of the public housing program produced positive results. Initially, the program served mainly intact families temporarily displaced by the Depression or in need of housing after the end of World War II. For many of these families, public housing was the first step on the road toward economic recovery. Their stays in the projects were relatively brief because they were able to accumulate sufficient economic resources to move on to private housing. The economic mobility of these families "contributed to the sociological stability of the first public housing communities, and explains the program's initial success." !"

Passage of the Housing Act of 1949 marked the beginning of the second policy stage. It instituted and funded the urban renewal program designed to eradicate urban slums and therefore was seemingly nonracial. However, the public housing that it created "was now meant to collect the ghetto, residents left homeless by the urban renewal bulldozers."ls A new (lower) income ceiling for public housing residency was established by the federal public housing authority, and families with incomes above that ceiling were evicted. Thus, access to public housing was restricted to only the most economically disadvantaged segments of the population.

This change in federal housing policy coincided with the Second Great Migration of African Americans from the rural South to the cities of the Northeast and Midwest, which lasted thirty years-from 1940 to, 1970. This mass movement of African Americans was even larger and more sustained than the first Great Migration, which began at the turn of the twentieth century and ended during the Great Depression, and it had a more profound impact on the transformation of the inner city.

As the black urban population in the North grew and precipitated greater demands for housing, pressure mounted in white communities to keep blacks out. Suburban communities, with their restrictive covenants and special zoning laws, refused to permit the construction of public housing. And the federal government acquiesced to organized white inner-city groups that opposed the construction of public housing in their neighborhoods. Thus, public housing units were overwhelmingly concentrated in the overcrowded and deteriorating inner-city ghettos-the poorest and least powerful sections of the city and the metropolitan area. "This growing population of politically weak urban poor was unable to counteract the desires _of vocal middle- and working-class whites for segregated housing,"16 housing that would keep blacks out of white neighborhoods. In short, public housing became a federally funded institution that isolated families by race and class, resulting in high concentrations of poor black families in inner-city ghettos.' ?

In the last quarter of the twentieth century, new developments led to further changes in these neighborhoods. One of the most significant was the out-migration of middle-income blacks. Before the 1970s, African American families had faced extremely strong barriers when they considered moving into white neighborhoods. Not only did many experience overt discrimination in the housing market, but some were victims of violent attacks. Although fairhousing audits continue to reveal the existence of discrimination in the housing market, the fair-housing legislation, including the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, reduced the strengths of these barriers. And middle-income African Americans increased their efforts to move from concentrated black poverty areas to more desirable neighborhoods in the metropolitan area, including white neighborhoods. IS

This pattern represents an important change in the formation of neighborhoods. In earlier years, communities undergoing racial change from white to black had tended to experience an increase in population density, as a result of the black migration from the South. Because of the housing demand, particularly in the late stages of the succession from white to black, homes and apartments in these neighborhoods were often subdivided into smaller units.' ?

However, 1970 marked the end of the great migration wave of blacks from the South to northern urban areas, and two developments affected the course of population movement to the inner cities after that. Improvements in transportation made it easier for workers to live outside the central city, and industries gradually shifted to the suburbs because of the increased residential suburbanization of the labor force and the lower cost of production. Because of the suburbanization of employment and improvements in transportation, inner-city manufacturing jobs were no longer a strong factor pulling migrants to central cities.I?

With the decline of industrial employment in the inner city, the influx of southern blacks to northern cities ceased and many poor black neighborhoods, especially those in the Midwest and Northeast, changed from densely packed areas of recently arrived migrants to communities gradually abandoned by the working and middle classes."

In addition, and more recently, a fundamental shift in the federal government's support for basic urban programs profoundly aggravated the problems of inner-city neighborhoods. Beginning in 1980, when Ronald Reagan became president, sharp spending cuts on direct aid to cities dramatically reduced budgets for general revenue sharing-"-unrestricted funds (money that can be used for any purposel-s-urban mass transit, economic development assistance, urban development action grants, social service block grants, local public works, compensatory education, public service jobs, and job training. Many of these programs are designed to help disadvantaged individuals gain some traction in attaining financial secunty.+' It is telling that the federal contribution was 17.5 percent of the total city budgets in 1977, but only 5.4 percent by 2000.23

These cuts were particularly acute for older cities in the East and Midwest that depended largely on federal and state aid to fund social services for their poor populations and to maintain aging infrastructure. In 1980, for example, federal and state aid funded 50 to 69 percent of the budgets in six of these cities, and 40 to 50 percent of budgets in eleven other cities. By 1989, only three cities-Buffalo, Baltimore, and Newark-continued to receive over 50 percent of their budgets in state aid; and only two citiesMilwaukee and Boston-received between 40 and 50 percent of their budgets in state aid. To illustrate further, New York City's state aid dropped from 52 percent of its budget in 1980 to 32 percent in 1989, resulting in a loss of $4 billion.24 Here, once again, is a policy that is nonracial on the surface-although it coincided with changes in the proportion of white and nonwhite urban residents-but nonetheless has indirectly contributed to crystallization of the inner-city ghetto.

The decline in federal support for cities since 1980 coincided with an increase in the immigration of people from poorer countries-mainly low-skilled workers from Mexico-and the steady migration of whites to the suburbs. With minorities displacing whites as a growing share of the central-city population, the implications for the urban tax base were profound, especially in America's .cities. According to the US Census Bureau, in 2000 the median annual household income for Latinos was about $14,000 less than that of white households. With a declining tax base and the simultaneous loss of federal funds that heralded the introduction of the New Federalist policies of the Reagan administration, municipalities had trouble raising enough revenue to cover basic services such as garbage collection, street cleaning, and police protection. Some even cut such services in order to avoid bankruptcy."

This financial crisis left many cities ill equipped to handle three devastating public health problems that had emerged in the 1980s and had disproportionately affected areas of concentrated poverty: (1) the prevalence of drug trafficking and associated violent crimes; (2) the AIDS epidemic and its escalating public health costs; and (3) the rise in the homeless population not only of individuals, but of whole families as well." Although drug addiction, drug-related violence, AIDS, and homelessness are found in many American communities, their impact on the black ghetto is profound. A number of cities, especially fiscally strapped cities, have watched helplessly as these problems-aggravated by the reduction of citywide social services, as well as high levels of neighborhood joblessness-have reinforced the perception that cities are dangerous and threatening places to live. Accordingly, between the 1980s and 2000, many working- and middle-class urban residents continued to relocate to the suburbs. Thus, while poverty and joblessness, and the social problems they generate, remain prominent in ghetto neighborhoods, many cities have fewer and fewer resources to combat them.

Although fiscal conditions in many cities improved significantly in the latter half of the 1990s, this brief period of economic progress was ended by the recession of 2001, followed by a jobless recovery (i.e., a recovery that failed to improve the employment rate). The decline of federal and state support for central cities, the largest urban areas in metropolitan regions, has caused a number of severe fiscal and service crises, particularly in the older cities of the East and Midwest, such as Detroit, Cleveland, Baltimore, and Philadelphia.

Moreover, the George W. Bush administration's substantial reductions in federal aid to the states exacerbated the problems in cities reliant on state fundsY Because of these combined economic and political changes, many central cities and inner suburbs lack the fiscal means to address the concentrated problems of joblessness, family breakups, and failing public sch,00Is.28 Given the current budget deficit-which continues to grow in the face of the Bush administration's simultaneous surrender of revenue in the form of large tax cuts for wealthy citizens and its spending of billions of federal dollars to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the war against terror, and the rebuilding of Iraq's infrastructure-support for programs to revitalize cities in general and inner-city neighborhoods in particular will very likely garner even less support from policy makers in the future.29

Finally, policy makers indirectly contributed to concentrated poverty in inner-city neighborhoods with decisions that decreased the attractiveness of low-paying jobs and accelerated the relative decline in low-income workers' wages. In particular, in the absence of an effective labor market policy, policy makers tolerated industry practices that undermine worker security-including the erosion of benefits and the rise of involuntary part-time employmentand they allowed the purchasing power of the federal minimum wage to erode to one of its lowest levels in decades. After adjusting for inflation, the current federal minimum wage of $6.55 is 24 percent lower than the average level of the minimum wage in the 1960s, 23 percent lower than in the 1970s, 6 percent lower than in the 1980s, and only 1 percent higher than in the 1990s.30 Clearly, the recent action by a Democratic Congress to increase the federally mandated minimum wage was long overdue.

In sum, federal government policies, even those that are not explicitly racial, have had a profound impact on inner-city neighborhoods. Some of these policies are clearly motivated by racial bias, such as the FHA's red lining of black neighborhoods in the 1940s and 1950s, as well as the federal government's decision to confine construction of public housing projects mainly to innercity, poor, black neighborhoods. In other cases it seems that racial bias or concerns about race influenced but were not the sole inspiration for political decisions, such as the fiscal policies of the New Federalism, which resulted in drastic cuts in federal aid to cities whose populations had become more brown and black.

The point of conservative fiscal policy-no matter whose administration promulgated it (Reagan, George H. W. Bush, or George W. Bush)-was ostensibly to subject government to financial discipline. Nevertheless, the enactment of such policies creates ·financial constraints that make it difficult to generate the political support to effectively combat problems such as joblessness, drug trafficking, AIDS, family stress, and failing schools.

Furthermore,as we have seen already, other policies that range from those that clearly lack a racial agenda to those where the line between racial and nonracial is somewhat gray have had a profound impact on inner cities and their poor black residents:

Federal transportation and highway policy created an infrastructure for jobs in the suburbs. Mortgage-interest tax exemptions and mortgages for veterans jointly facilitated the exodus of working- and middle-class white families from inner-city neighborhoods. Urban renewal and the building of freeway and highway networks through the hearts of many cities led to the destruction of many viable low-income black neighborhoods. And there were no effective labor market policies to safeguard the real value of the minimum wage, thereby making it more difficult for the inner-city working poor to support their families.

These developments have occurred in many cities across the country, but they perhaps have been felt more in the older central cities of the Midwest and Northeast-the traditional Rust Beltwhere depopulated poverty areas have experienced even greater problems.

The Impact of Economic Forces

Older urban areas were once the hubs of economic growth and activity and therefore major destinations for people in search of economic opportunity. However, the economies of many of these cities have since been eroded by complex economic transformations and shifting patterns in metropolitan development. These economic forces are typically considered nonracial-in the sense that their origins are not the direct result of actions, processes, or ideologies that explicitly reflect racial bias. But nevertheless they have accelerated neighborhood decline in the inner city and widened gaps in race and income between cities and suburbs.v

As I mentioned in Chapter 1, since the mid-twentieth century the mode of production in the United States has shifted dramatically from manufacturing to one increasingly fueled by finance, services, and technology. This shift has accompanied the technological revolution, which has transformed traditional industries and brought about changes ranging from streamlined information technology to biomedical engineering.V

In other words, the relationship between technology and international competition has eroded the basic institutions of the mass production system. In the last several decades almost all improvements in productivity have been associated with technology and human capital, thereby drastically reducing the importance of physical capital.P With the increased globalization of economic activity, firms have spread their operations around the world, often relocating their production facilities to developing nations that have dramatically lower labor costs."

These global economic transformations have adversely affected the competitive position of many US Rust Belt cities. For example, Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh perform poorly on employment growth, an important traditional measure of economic performance. Nationally, employment increased by 25 percent between 1991 and 2001, yet job growth in these older central cities either declined or did not exceed 3 percent."

With the decline in manufacturing employment in many of the


nation's central cities, most of the jobs for lower-skilled workers

are now in retail and service industries (e.g., store cashiers, customer service representatives, fast-food servers, custodial workers). Whereas jobs in manufacturing industries were unionized, were relatively stable, and carried higher wages, those for workers with low to modest levels of education in the retail and service industries provided lower wages, tended to be unstable, and lacked the benefits and worker protections-such as workers' health insurance, medical leave, retirement benefits, and paid vacationstypically offered through unionization. Thus, workers relegated to low-wage service and retail firms are more likely to experience hardships as they struggle to make ends meet. In addition, the local economy suffers when residents have fewer dollars to spend in their neighborhoods-"

Beginning in the mid-1970s, the employment balance between central cities and suburbs shifted markedly to the suburbs. Since 1980, over two-thirds of employment growth has occurred outside the central city: manufacturing is now over 70 percent suburban, and wholesale and retail trade is just under 70 percent suburban." The suburbs of many central cities, developed originally as bedroom localities for commuters to the central business and manufacturing districts, have become employment centers in themselves. In Detroit, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, for example, less than 20 percent of the jobs are now located within three miles of the city center."

Accompanying the rise of suburban and exurban economies has been a change in commuting patterns. Increasingly, workers completely bypass the central city by commuting from one suburb to another. "In the Cleveland region, for example, less than onethird of workers commute to a job in the central city and over half (55 percent) begin and end in the suburbs." 39

Sprawl and economic stagnation reduce inner-city residents' access to meaningful economic opportunities and thereby fuel the economic decline of their neighborhoods. Spatial mismatch is a term that social scientists use to capture the relationship between inner-city residents and suburban jobs: the opportunities for employment are geographically disconnected from the people who need the jobs. In Cleveland, for example, although entry-level workers are concentrated in inner-city neighborhoods, 80 percent of the entry-level jobs are located in the suburbs." ? The lack of feasible transportation options exacerbates this mismatch. In addition to the challenges in learning about and reaching jobs, there is persistent racial discrimination in hiring practices, especially for younger and less experienced minority workers."

With the departure of higher-income families, the least upwardly mobile individuals in society-mainly low-income people of color-are left behind in neighborhoods with high concentrations of poverty and deteriorating physical conditions. These neighborhoods offer few jobs and typically lack basic services and amenities, such as banks, grocery stores and other retail establishments, parks, and quality transit.t- Typically, these communities also suffer from substandard schools, many with run-down physical plants.

Two of the most visible indicators of neighborhood decline are abandoned buildings and vacant lots. According to one recent report, there are 60,000 abandoned and vacant properties in Philadelphia, 40,000 in Detroit, and 26,000 in Baltimore." These inner-city properties have lost residents in the wake of the outmigration of more economically mobile families, and the relocation of many manufacturing industries."

The Role of Cultural Factors

Even though these structural changes have adversely affected inner-city neighborhoods, there is a widespread notion in America that the problems plaguing people in the inner city have little to do with racial discrimination or the effects of living in segregated poverty. For many Americans, the individual and the family bear the main responsibility for their low social and economic achievement in society. If unchallenged, this view may suggest that cultural traits are at the root of problems experienced by the ghetto poor.

As I pointed out in Chapter 1, culture provides tools (habits, skills, and styles) and creates constraints (restrictions or limits on outlooks and behavior) in patterns of social interaction. These constraints include cultural frames (shared group constructions of reality) that influence or direct social action, and, as I shall demonstrate more specifically in Chapters 3 and 4, that action may reinforce racial inequality. It is important to remember that one of the effects of living in a racialjv segregated, poor neighborhood is the exposure to cultural framing, habits, styles of behavior, and particular skills that emerged from patterns of racial exclUSion; these attributes and practices may not be conducive to facilitating social mobility. For example, as we shall discuss in Chapter 3, some social scientists have discussed the negative effects of a "cool-pose culture" that has emerged among young black men in the inner city, which includes making sexual conquests, hanging out on the street after school, taking party drugs, and listening to hip-hop music. These patterns of behavior are seen as a hindrance to social mobility in the larger society.45

The use of a cultural argument, however, is not without peril.

Anyone who wishes to understand American society must be aware that explanations focusing on the cultural traits of innercity residents are likely to draw far more attention from policy makers and the general public than structural explanations will. It is an unavoidable fact that Americans tend to deemphasize the structural origins and social Significance of poverty and welfare. In other words, the popular view is that people are poor or on welfare because of their own personal shortcomings. Perhaps this tendency is rooted in our tradition of "rugged individualism." If, in America, you can grow up to be anything you want to be, then any destiny-even poverty-can be rightly viewed through the lens of personal achievement or failure. Certainly it's true that most Americans have little direct knowledge or understanding of the complex nature of race and poverty in the inner city, and therefore broadly based cultural explanations that focus on personal character are more likely to gain acceptance.

We can easily see that explanations focusing on the character and capabilities of the individual dominate American thinking. Consider studies of national public opinion. After analyzing national survey data collected in 1969 and 1980, James R. Kluegel and Eliot R. Smith concluded that "most Americans believe that opportunity for economic advancement is widely available, that economic outcomes are determined by individuals' efforts and talents (or their lack) and that in general economic inequality is fair." 46 Indeed, responses to questions in these two national American surveys revealed that individualistic explanations for poverty (e.g., lack of effort or ability, poor moral character, slack work skills) were overwhelmingly favored over structural explanations (e.g., lack of adequate schooling, low wages, lack of jobs). The most frequently selected items in the surveys were "lack of thrift or proper money management skills," "lack of effort," "lack of ability or talent" (attitudes from one's family background that impede social mobility); "failure of society to provide good schools"; and "loose morals and drunkenness." Except for "failure of society to provide good schools," all of these phrases point to shortcomings on the part of individuals as the causes of poverty. The Americans who answered the survey considered structural factors, such as "low wages," "failure of industry to provide jobs," and "racial discrimination" least important of all. The rankings of these factors remained virtually unchanged between 1969 and 1980.

A 1990 survey using these same questions, reported by Lawrence Bobo and Ryan A. Smith, revealed a slight increase among those who associate poverty with institutional and structural causes, especially the "failure of industry to provide enough jobs." 47 Nonetheless, Americans remained strongly disposed to the idea that individuals are largely responsible for their economic situations. In the three times the survey was administered-1969, 1980, and 1990-the most often selected explanation was "lack

of effort by the poor themselves." In fact, across all three surveys, more than nine out of ten American adults felt that lack of effort was either very or somewhat important in terms of causing poverty. Fewer than 10 percent felt it was not important.

The weight Americans give to individualistic factors persists today. A 2007 survey by the Pew Research Center revealed that "fully two-thirds of all Americans believe personal factors, rather than racial discrimination, explain why many African Americans have difficulty getting ahead in life; just 19% blame discrimination." 48 Nearly three-fourths of US whites (71 percent), a majority of Hispanics (59 percent), and even a slight majority of blacks (53 percent) "believe that blacks who have not gotten ahead in life are mainly responsible for their own situation." ?

These findings on the importance of individualistic causes of poverty contrast sharply with those in a survey conducted in twelve European countries (England, Ireland, France, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Luxembourg, Austria, and Italy) in 1990.50 A substantial majority of the citizens in each of these countries favored structural over individual explanations for the causes of poverty and joblessness in their own nations. Given the rising ethnic and racial tensions between host populations and migrants of color from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, we might have expected these attitudes to shift closer to those held by Americans. However, a 2007 survey of twenty-seven European Union member states revealed that only one in five European Union citizens supported the idea that people live in poverty because of "laziness and lack of will power." Thirty-seven percent viewed "injustice in society as the cause of poverty," 20 percent attributed the cause to "bad luck," and 13 percent found poverty "an inevitable part of progress." 51 The attitudes of ordinary European citizens and public rhetoric in the European Union focus much more on structural and social inequities at large, not on individual behavior, to explain the causes of poverty and joblessness. Obviously, citizens in other Western democracies do not share the American emphasis on individualistic explanations for the problems of poverty.

The strength of American cultural sentiment that individuals are primarily responsible for poverty presents a dilemma for anyone who seeks the most comprehensive explanation of outcomes for poor black Americans. Why? Simply because cultural arguments that focus on individual traits and behavior invariably draw more attention than do structural explanations in the United States. Accordingly, I feel that a social scientist has an obligation to try to make sure that the explanatory power of his or her structural argument is not lost to the reader and to provide a context for understanding cultural responses to chronic economic and racial subordination.

Let me pursue this idea by first considering the neighborhood-

effects research that focuses on concentrated poverty. Hundreds of studies have been published on the effects of concentrated poverty in neighborhood environments since the late 1980s. The research suggests that concentrated poverty increases the likelihood of social isolation (from mainstream institutions), joblessness, dropping out of school, lower educational achievement, involvement in crime, unsuccessful behavioral development and delinquency among adolescents, nonmarital childbirth, and unsuccessful family management.V In general, the research reveals that concentrated poverty adversely affects one's chances in life, beginning in early childhood and adolescence.

Some scholars, however, have been concerned that these studies reached conclusions about neighborhood effects on the basis of data that do not address the problem of self-selection bias, a term used in research to describe the effect of people grouping themselves together according to common characteristics. Proponents of self-selection bias argue that the effects we attribute to poor neighborhoods may instead be caused by the characteristics of families and individuals who end up living there. In other words, they believe that disadvantaged neighborhoods might not be the cause of poor outcomes, but rather that families with the weakest job-related skills, with the lowest awareness of and concern for the effects of the local environment on their children's social development, with attitudes that hinder social mobility, and with the most burdensome personal problems are simply more likely to live in these types of neighborhoods.

For example, as John Quigley and Steven Raphael point out, "in interpreting cross-sectional data on the isolation of lowincome workers from job concentrations, it is likely that those with weaker attachments to the labor force will have chosen to locate in places where employment access is low [e.g., inner-city ghetto neighborhoods]. This is simply because monthly rents are lower in these places." 53

Indeed, some scholars maintain that neighborhood effects disappear when researchers use appropriate statistical techniques to account for self-selection bias.> ' Because the appropriateness of measures capturing neighborhood effects is not discussed as a major problem in such studies, a point that I will soon discuss, many readers will conclude that structural explanations of concentrated poverty and related problems like discrimination, segregation, and joblessness are less persuasive than those that focus on personal attributes. But, as I shall attempt to show, there is little basis for ignoring or downplaying neighborhood effects in favor of emphasizing personal attributes. Indeed, living in a ghetto neighborhood has both structural and cultural effects that compromise life chances above and beyond personal attributes.

Arguments about self-selection bias were not seen as seriously challenging conclusions about neighborhood effects until publication of the research on the Moving to Opportunity (MTO) experiment, a housing pilot program undertaken by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) between 1994 and 1998. The MTO program was inspired by the Gautreaux program, an earlier effort to assist minorities who wished to leave the inner city. The Gautreaux program was created under a 1976 court order resulting from a judicial finding that the Chicago Housing Authority had deliberately segregated black families through its site selection and tenant selection policies and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) had knowingly funded such violations of civil rights. Named for Dorothy Gautreaux, who initiated the original lawsuit, the program sought to remedy previous segregation by offering black public housing residents a chance to obtain subsidized housing throughout the greater Chicago area. By the time the Gautreaux program ended in 1998, it had placed 7,100 families, with over half relocating to white suburbs.

As the program unfolded, it allowed researchers to systematically compare the education and employment experiences of families who had been assigned to private subsidized housing in the suburbs with those of a comparison group with similar characteristics and history who had been assigned to private apartments in the city. Research on this program reveals that the families who were relocated to housing in the suburbs experienced significantly higher rates of employment, lower school dropout rates, and higher college attendance rates."

Although some believed that the Gautreaux program removed the self-selection bias problem in a quasi-experimental way, "critics were not mollified," because the selection of participants and their placement in new neighborhoods were nonrandom." That is, "the Gautreaux program was the result of a court-ordered desegregation ruling and not a research experiment,">' so some argued that selfselection was still a factor. After all, Gautreaux participants were persons struggling to leave poor, inner-city neighborhoods. Some might argue that perhaps they were successful in their new setting not because theywere no longer defeated by structural factors, but because they had the gumption to fight their way out of the ghetto in the first place.

These criticisms were addressed in HUD's MTO demonstration program. More specifically from 1994 to 1997 HUD conducted a lottery that awarded housing vouchers to families living in public housing developments in high-poverty neighborhoods in five cities: Boston, Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. Families who entered the lottery, thus indicating their desire to move, were randomly assigned to one of three groups. One was awarded housing vouchers that could be used to rent in the private market in any area, one was awarded housing vouchers restricted to private rentals in low-poverty neighborhoods, and one did not receive either of the two vouchers and was therefore treated as a control group to be compared with the other two groups.

The MTO interim evaluation studies were considered superior to the research on the Gautreaux program-as well as other research on neighborhood effects-because they were based on data from a randomized experimental design that eliminated the self-selection bias "that had made it difficult to clearly determine the association between living in poor neighborhoods and individual outcomes." S8 The reports and publications on the interim evaluation, which was finalized in 2003, provided mixed evidence for neighborhood effects in comparisons between the group whose MTO vouchers were restricted to low-poverty areas and the group that did not receive vouchers. On the one hand, during the fiveyear period following random assignment, the MTO movers who had relocated to low-poverty areas were more likely to have experienced improvements in mental health and less likely to be obese, and girls experienced a significant reduction in "risky behavior"

. (drinking, taking drugs, engaging in sex, and so on). On the other hand, research investigators found no evidence of an impact on employment rates and earnings, or of any marked improvement on the educational or physical health outcomes of children and young men. These mixed results have led some, including reporters, to question whether there really are enduring negative effects of living in poor, segregated neighborhoods.

However, although the research on the MTO experiment is rigorous, serious problems with the design of the experiment limit the extent to which one can generalize about neighborhood effects. First of all, the treatment was weak. That is, the voucher was restricted for only one year; and the restrictions were based on neighborhood poverty, not racial composition. Indeed, many MTO movers relocated to neigh~orhoods that were not Significantly diff~rent from the ones they had left. For example, three-fifths of MTO families entered highly segregated black neighborhoods. Such neighborhoods tend to be considerably less advantaged than integrated areas. Sociologist Robert Sampson analyzed the neighborhood attainment of all Chicago MTO families and found that after approximately seven years, although the voucher winners resided in neighborhoods with poverty rates somewhat lower than in the neighborhoods of control families, both groups had clustered in segregated black neighborhoods that were still considerably poorer than what an overwhelming majority of Americans will ever experience (neighborhoods with poverty rates of roughly 30 percent) 59

One of the major differences between Gautreaux and MTO was that many Gautreaux families with vouchers moved to white suburban areas that were significantly less impoverished than their previous neighborhoods. In addition, at the time of the experiment's interim evaluation, as many as 41 percent of the MTO families who had entered low-poverty neighborhoods subsequently moved back to more disadvantaged neighborhoods. Because of such extensive out-migration, these MTO families accumulated relatively little time in areas of low poverty, and correspondingly they did not have an extended opportunity to experience life in low-poverty neighborhoods that were racially integrated.s''

Moreover, nearly three-fourths of the children in the MTO experiment remained in the same school district, often in the same schools, atthe time of the interim evaluation. Stefanie Deluca's comment on these findings, based on her interviews of MTO parents in Baltimore, reveals that school choice was a low priority for some parents. "It is quite striking," she states, "how little some parents thought that school mattered for learning, ~elative to what the child contributed through hard work and a 'good attitude."' 61 Furthermore, as pointed out by Quigley and Raphael, the experiment had not improved accessibility to employment opportunities for MTO movers, because their new neighborhoods were no closer to areas of employment growth. 62 Finally, a number of the projects that had housed many participants prior to their MTO relocation were torn down during the time of the experiment, forcing individuals in the control groups to also move and thus making it difficult to determine differences between voucher families and those without vouchers.

Rather than concluding from this research that neighborhoods do not matter, it would be prudent to state simply that although the MTO research raises questions about the extent to which neighborhoods affect the social outcomes of children and adults, it certainly does not resolve these questions. The MTO is best viewed as a policy experiment rather than a measure of social processes. We learn a lot from the MTO regarding how helpful it would be to offer ghetto residents housing vouchers with restricted use based on neighborhood poverty for one year. What the MTO tells us little about is the effect of neighborhoods on the development of children and families.

I think that overall quantitative studies generate mixed or weak findings about the effects of living in poor, segregated neighborhoods because of crude or inadequate measures to capture neighborhood effects. If a random experiment or even a non-experimental study could be generated that would allow researchers to capture the impact of a range of factors distinguishing different neighborhoods, including identifying factors that are cumulative over time, there would be significantly different findings on the impact of living in inner-city ghetto neighborhoods. Allow me to elaborate briefly.

In an impressive study that analyzes data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), a national longitudinal survey, with methods designed to measure intergenerabonal economic mobility, Patrick Sharkey found that/'more than 70% of black children who are raised in the poorest quarter of American neighborhoods will continue to live in the poorest quarter of neighborhoods as adults." 63 He also found that since the 1970s, a majority of black families have resided in the poorest quarter of neighborhoods in consecutive generations, compared to only 7 percent of white families. Thus, he concludes that the disadvantages of living in poor, black neighborhoods, like the advantages of living in affluent, white neighborhoods, are in large measure inherited.

Accordingly, this persistence of neighborhood inequality raises serious questions about studies on neighborhood effects. Many of these studies substantially underestimate the racial inequality in neighborhood environments because they use a single-pointin-time, or a single-generation, measure of neighborhood poverty or income." Whereas living in the most impoverished neighborhoods is a temporary state for white families, most black families who lived in the poorest neighborhoods in the 1970s continue to live in such neighborhoods today. Sharkey suggests, therefore, that the focus of the research on neighborhood effects might be shifted to an examination of how the effect of living in poor neighborhoods over two or more generations differs from the effect of short-term residen,ce in such neighborhoods. This brings us back to another shortcoming. of the MTO experiment. Sharkey states the follOWing:

The difficulty with interpreting the results from the lVITO as estimates of "neighborhood effects" lies in the conceptualization of a move to a new neighborhood as a point-in-time "treatment." This perspective ignores the possibility that the social environments surrounding families over generations have any lagged or cumulative influence on family members, and it ignores, the complex pathways by which this influence may occur. For instance, the neighborhood may have an influence on an individual's educational attainment in one generation, in turn influencing the individual's occupational status and income as an adult, the quality of the home environment in which that individual raises a child, and the developmental trajectory of that child. These indirect pathways are obscured in observational studies that control for a set of covariates such as education or the quality of the home environment, and they are impossible to assess in experimental approaches such as lVIT065

We should also consider another pathbreaking study that Sharkey coauthored with senior investigator Robert Sampson and another colleague, Steven Raudenbush, that examined the durable effects of concentrated poverty on black children's verbal ability. 66 They studied a representative sample of 750 African American children, ages six to twelve, who were growing up in the city of Chicago in 1995, and followed them anywhere they moved in the United States for up to seven years. The children were given a reading examination and vocabulary test at three different periods. The study shows "that residing in a severely disadvantaged neighborhood cumulatively impedes the development of academically relevant verbal ability in children"-so much so that the effects linger even if the children leave these neighborhoods.F

The results of this study reveal (1) that the neighborhood environment "is an important developmental context for trajectories of verbal cognitive ability";68 (2) that young African American children who had earlier lived in a severely disadvantaged neighborhood had fallen behind their counterparts or peers who had not resided previously in disadvantaged areas by up to 6 "IQ" points-a magnitude estimated to be equivalent to "missing a year or more of schooling'r'" and (3) "that the strongest effects appear several years after children live in areas of concentrated disadvantage." ? This research raises important questions "about ways in which neighborhoods may alter growth in verbal ability producing effects that linger on even if a child leaves a severely disadvantaged neighborhood.' ?' Sampson, Sharkey, and Raudenbush argue that if researchers were trying to determine the extent to which neighborhoods affect children's verbal ability by randomly providing housing vouchers to black children who live and grew up in inner-city ghetto neighborhoods and who took a test measuring verbal ability before they moved, and then compared the results of the same test a few years later after the children had resided in better neighborhoods, the conclusion would very likely be that there are no neighborhood effects. Why? Because there would be no difference in verbal ability linked to movement to a better neighborhood, since verbal abilities would have already been formed.

The notion that the children's verbal ability was not affected by their early years in a disadvantaged neighborhood would be quite misleading, they point out, because it does not take into account the significant lagged effect of living in neighborhoods of concentrated disadvantage-effects that linger even after environmental conditions improve. Accordingly, they remarked, "It follows that residential mobility' programs for those who grow up in poverty do not necessarily provide the appropriate test of the causal effect of neighborhood social contexts." 72 In other words, the lack of evidence for neighborhood effects in the MTO evaluation does not necessarily suggest the absence of cumulative or durable neighborhood effects.

The studies by Sharkey and by Sampson and his colleagues both suggest that neighborhood effects are not solely structural. Among the effects of living in segregated neighborhoods over extended periods is repeated exposure to cultural traits (including lingUistic patterns, the focus of Sampson's study) that emanate from or are the products of racial exclusion-traits, such as poor verbal skills, that may impede successful maneuvering in the larger society.

As Sharkey points out, "when we consider that the vast majority of black families living in America's poorest neighborhoods come from families that have lived in similar environments for generations ... continuity of the neighborhood environment, in addition to continuity of individual economic status, may be especially relevant to the study of cultural patterns and social norms among disadvantaged populations." 73

Unfortunately, very little research has focused on these cumulative cultural experiences, and it is sometimes difficult to separate cumulative cultural experiences from cumulative psychological experiences. Take, for example, the repeated experiences of discrimination and disrespect that a lot of blacks have in common. As University of Wisconsin SOCiologist Erik Olin Wright points out, if these experiences are systematic over an extended time period, they can generate common psychological states that may be erroneously interpreted as norms by social investigators because they seem to regulate patterns of behavior?4 Resignation as a response to repeated experiences with discrimination and disrespect is one good example. Parents in segregated communities who have had such experiences may transmit to children, through the process of socialization, a set of beliefs about what to expect from life and how one should respond to life circumstances. In other words, children may be taught norms of resignation-they observe the behavior of adults and learn the "appropriate" action or response in different situations independently of their own direct experiences. In the process, children may acquire a disposition to interpret the way the world works that reflects a strong sense that other members of society disrespect them because they are black.

The impact of chronic economic subordination and displays of disrespect on people's psychological dispositions and emotional states may depend partly on the cultural resources they have to interpret what has happened to them, such as a cultural framing designed to fend off insults that promotes strong feelings of racial pride within the community. Over time, "the shared psychological dispositions can become crystallized in cultural products and

practices." 75

Thus, in addition to structural influences, exposure to different

cultural influences in the neighborhood environment over time must be taken into account if one is to really appreciate and explain the divergent social outcomes of human groups. But, to repeat, in delivering this message we must make sure that the powerful influence of structural factors does not recede into the


Structure versus Culture

In addition to making sure that the structural effects of living in poor neighborhoods are not dismissed or treated lightly, it is important to be clear that structural factors are likely to playa far greater role than cult~ral factors in bringing about rapid neighborhood change. Persuasive structural evidence for this argument is provided in two studies by University of Texas social scientist Paul [argowsky. First, in Poverty and Place, an important book published by the Russell Sage Foundation in 1997, Jargowsky reveals that in metropolitan areas around the country, changes in economic activity were related to both rapid increases and decreases in neighborhood poverty. Economic booms sharply decreased ghetto poverty in the Southwest in the 1970s and in the Northeast in the 1980s. A rise in the overall mean income resulted in sharp declines in ghetto poverty concentration among blacks.

As Jargowsky correctly observes, "a self-sustaining neighborhood culture implies that levels of neighborhood poverty would respond slowly, if at all, to increased economic opportunity." 76 However, this assumption is undermined not only in his book Poverty and Place. A later report that Jargowsky prepared for the Brookings Institution revealed that the number of people residing in high-poverty neighborhoods decreased by 24 percent, or 2.5 million people, from 1990 to 2000 because of the economic boom, particularly in the last half of the 1990s. Moreover, the number of such neighborhoods around the country-the study defined them as census tracts with at least 40 percent of residents below the poverty level-declined by more than a quarter."

In 1990 almost a third of all American blacks lived in such neighborhoods; the 2000 figure was 19 percent. Yet despite this significant improvement, African Americans still have the highest rates of concentrated poverty of all groups in the United States. In part, the state of inner-city ghettos is a legacy of historic racial subjugation. Concentratedcpoverty rieighborhoods are the most visible and disturbing displays of racial and income segregation. And the dramatic decline in concentrated poverty from 1990 to 2000 can be explained in terms of culture. Rather, these shifts demonstrate that the fate of African Americans and other racial groups is inextricably connected with changes across the modern


Jargowsky's data bear this out. The declines in concentrated

poverty in the 1990s occurred not just in a few cities but across the country. By contrast, Los Angeles and Washington DC were two of the few central cities that experienced a rise in concentrated poverty during the 1990s. Jargowsky advances three arguments to account for the divergent trend in Los Angeles: (1) the Rodney King verdict in 1992 triggered a very destructive riot; (2) the number of Latinos immigrating from Mexico and other Central and South American countries into high-poverty neighborhoods was significant; and (3) "the recession in the early 1990s was particularly severe in Southern California, and the economic recovery there was not as rapid as in other parts of California." 78

In Washington DC the devastating fiscal crisis from the early to the mid-1990s resulted in drastic reductions in public services and an erosion of public confidence in the district's government. This development contributed to "a rapid out-migration of moderate- and middle-income black families, particularly into suburban Maryland counties to the east of the central city. The poor were left behind in economically isolated neighborhoods with increasing poverty rates." 79

Virtually all racial and ethnic groups recorded improvements.

The number of whites living in high-poverty neighborhoods declined by 29 percent (from 2.7 million people to 1.9 million), . and the number of blacks decreased by 36 percent (from 4.8 million to 3.1 million). Latinos were the major exception to this pattern because their numbers in high-poverty areas increased slightly during the 1990s, by 1.6 percent. However, this finding should be placed in th,e context of Latino population growth: the number of Latinos overall -increased dramatically in the 1990s, by 57.9 percent, compared with 16.2 percent growth for African Americans and only 3.4 percent for whites.s? Particularly lowskilled immigrants drove Latino population growth. For all races, the greatest improvements against poverty concentration were in the South and Midwest, and the smallest were in the Northeast, mirroring wider economic trends."

Thus, the notable reduction in the number of high-poverty neighborhoods and the substantial decrease in the population of such neighborhoods may simply be blips of economic booms rather than permanent trends. Unemployment and individual poverty rates have increased since 2000, and we have every reason to assume that concentrated poverty rates are on the rise again as well, although complete data on concentrated poverty for this period will become available only in the 2010 census.

The earlier increase in concentrated poverty occurred during a period of rising income inequality for all Americans that began in the early 1970s. This was a period of decline in inflation-adjusted average incomes among the poor and of growing economic segregation caused by the exodus of middle-income families from inner cities. What had been mixed-income neighborhoods were rapidly transformed into areas of high poverty. Undoubtedly, if the robust economy of the latter 1990s could have been extended for several more years rather than coming to an abrupt halt in 2001, concentrated poverty in inner cities would have declined even more. Here, once again, we see the importance and power of structural forces-in this case, impersonal economic forces-on significantly changing concentrated poverty.


In this chapter I discussed a number of structural forces that have adversely affected inner-city black neighborhoods. These forces included political actions that were explicitly racial, those that were at least partly influenced by race, and those that were ostensibly nonracial (but nevertheless adversely affected black neighborhoods), as well as impersonal economic forces that accelerated neighborhood decline in the inner city and increased disparities in race and income between cities and suburbs.

One of the combined effects of these factors was the emergence of depopulated ghettos, especially in cities of the Midwest and Northeast. Federal transportation and highway policy, along with mortgage-interest tax exemptions, facilitated the exodus of both industries and nonpoor families from inner-city neighborhoods. In turn, the decline of industrial employment in the inner city brought about the end of the Second Great Migration from the South to the North around 1970. These developments helped transform many poor African American neighborhoods, especially those in the Northeast and Midwest, from densely packed areas of recently arrived migrants from the South to neighborhoods gradually abandoned by the working and middle classes.

A number of studies have raised questions about the real effects of living in these ghetto neighborhoods, including the widely cited studies on the Moving to Opportunity (MTO) experiment. In this chapter I highlighted two pathbreaking studies that raise serious questions about the extent to which the MTO captured the effects of living in poor neighborhoods. These two important studies provide compelling evidence for considering the cumulative and often durable effects of residing in poor, segregated neighborhoods. They also provide direction for much-needed research on the cumulative effects of living in poor, segregated neighborhoods. Some of ,these effects are obviously structural (e.g., proximity to jobs and enrollment in low-quality schools), but others are cultural, such as prolonged exposure to cultural traits that originate from or are the products of racial exclusion (e.g., the development of language skills and the influence of norms of resignation in response to repeated experiences of discrimination and disrespect).

Finally, as shown in this chapter, if one attempts to explain rapid changes in social and economic outcomes, there is little evidence that cultural forces carry the power of structural forces. We need only consider the impact of the economic boom on the reduction of concentrated racial poverty in the 1990s, as discussed in this chapter, for illustration of this point. Although cultural forces playa role in inner-city outcomes, evidence suggests that they are secondary to the larger economic and political forces, both racial and nonracial, that move American society. Indeed, as I will attempt to demonstrate in the next two chapters, structural conditions provide the context within which cultural responses to chronic economic and racial subordination are developed.



The economic predicament of low-skilled black men in the inner city has reached catastrophic proportions. Americans may not fully understand the dreadful social and economic circumstances that have moved these black males further and further behind the rest of society, but they often fear black males and perceive that they pose a problem for those who live in the city. Elliot Liebow helped expand our understanding of low-skilled black males when he wrote Tally's Corner: A Study of Street Corner Men in the mid-1960s.' Since then, researchers have paid more attention to this group.

Although many of Liebow's arguments concerning the work experiences and family lives of black men in a Washington DC ghetto are still applicable to contemporary urban communities, the social and economic predicament of low-skilled black males today, especially their rate of joblessness, has become even more severe. Liebow was perhaps the first scholar to demonstrate that an ongoing lack of success in the labor market (ranging from outright unemployment to being trapped in menial jobs) leads to a lessening of self-confidence and, eventually, to feelings of resignation that frequently result in temporary, or even permanent, abandonment of looking for work.

Even when Liebow's men were successful in finding work, the jobs they occupied paid little and were dirty, physically demanding, and uninteresting. This work did not foster respect, build status, or offer opportunity for advancement. "The most important fact [in becoming discouraged from looking for or keeping a job] is that a man who is able and willing to work cannot earn enough to support himself, his wife, and one or more children," declared Liebow. "A man's chances for working regularly are 'good only if he is willing to work for less than he can live on, sometimes not even then.' ? Because they held the same ideas about work and reward as other Americans, the street-corner men viewed such jobs disdainfully. "He cannot do otherwise," stated Liebow. "He cannot draw from a job those values which other people do not put into it." 3 Unlike today, menial employment was readily available to these men during the 1960s, and they drifted from one undesirable job to the next.

When I analyzed the data collected from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s by our research team on poverty and joblessness among black males in inner-city Chicago neighborhoods," I was repeatedly reminded of Liebows book. Although the job prospects for low-skilled black men were bleak when Liebow conducted his field research in the early 1960s, they were even worse in the last quarter of the twentieth century, when even menial jobs in the service sector were difficult for low-skilled black males to find. That situation persists today. Indeed, the employment woes of poor black men represent part of "the new urban poverty," which I define as poor, segregated neighborhoods in which substantial proportions of the. adult population are either officially unemployed or have dropped out of, or never entered, the labor force. This jobless poverty today stands in sharp contrast to previous periods, when the working poor predominated in urban ghettos." For example, in Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhoods-Douglas, Grand Boulevard, and Washington Park, the traditional black-belt area where the original black migrants from the South settled in the early twentieth century on Chicago's South Side-64 percent of all males fourteen years and older held jobs in a typical week in 1960. By 1990, a few years before Douglas and Grand Boulevard experienced gentrification, only 37 percent of all males sixteen and over worked in a typical week."

A recent article by Allison K. Rodean and Christopher H.

Wheeler provides data on changes in the clustering of unemployment in urban neighborhoods across the nation. Rodean and Wheeler state,

Based on data from the decennial U.S. Census covering more than 165,000 block groups located in 361 metropolitan areas, neighborhoods increasingly divided into high- and low-unemployment areas between 1980 and 2000. Rates of unemployment tended to fall in neighborhoods that already had low rates of unemployment in 1980, while they tended to rise in neighborhoods that had relatively high rates of unemployment in 1980. People without a job therefore, were more likely to come from one of a handful of high-unemployment neighborhoods in 2000 than two decades earlier." ?

As the authors point out, neighborhoods with larger fractions of nonwhites tend to be associated with higher rates of unemployment. Note, however, that the Rodean and Wheeler study highlights only unemployment in poor neighborhoods. When I speak of "joblessness," I am not referring solely to unemployment as it is offiCially measured. In the United States, the unemployment rate takes into account only those workers who are currently in the official labor force-s-that is, those who are actively looking for work (according to monthly interviews of a representative sample of households in the United States by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics). I use the term joblessness, then, to refer not only to those who are actively looking for work, but also to those who remain outside of or who have dropped out of the labor market. In early 2008, for example, although the official unemployment rate among men of ages twenty-five to fifty-four was 4.1 percent, the jobless rate was 13.1 percent." This larger number includes millions of adult males who are not recorded in official US labor market statistics, either because they are not looking for a job or because they are incarcerated. And they tend to disproportionately reside in poor, inner-city neighborhoods.

In the last four decades, low-skilled African American males have encountered increasing difficulty gaining access to jobs-eve.n menial jobs paying no more than the minimum wage. The ranks of idle inner-city men have swelled since 1970, and they include a growing proportion of unemployed adult males who routinely work in and tolerate low-wage jobs when they are available."

The impact of this joblessness is reflected in real earnings (earnings adjusted for inflation). For example, between 2000 and 2004 the average real annual earnings of twenty-four-year-old black males who were in the bottom quarter of the earnings distribution (i.e., the 25th percentile of earnings) were only $1,078, compared with $9,623 for Latino males and $9,843 for white males in the bottom quarter of their earnings distributions.l? Although the earnings of Latino and white males at the 25th percentile were also relatively low, they were nine times higher than those of comparable black males. The extremely limited average annual earnings for black males at the low end of the earnings distribution reflect their Significantly higher jobless rates during this period, including those who had completely given up looking for work and had virtually no reported income. For purposes of comparison, if we move to the 75th percentile of the earnings distribution, the average annual earnings for twenty-four-year-old black males during this period were $22,000, compared with earnings of $22,800 and $30,000 for Latino and white males, respectively. These numbers illustrate that the really Significant discrepancy in work and wages is for those in the bottom quartile-the poorest men.

A closer look reveals that mariy of these jobless men are high school dropouts whose situations are especially bleak. A recent report by Andrew Sum and his colleagues at Northeastern University's Center for Labor Market Studies revealed that "only 1 of every 3 young black male high school dropouts was able to obtain any type of employment during an average month in 2005," and only 23 percent of such males were able to find full-time employment during an average week. II The report appropriately points out that "many of these young men will end up being involved in criminal activity during their late teens and early 20s and then bear the severe economic consequences for convictions and incarceration over the remainder of their working lives." 12

The declining relative status of black males is not restricted to poor, low-skilled workers. Indeed, black women have far outpaced black men in college completion in recent years. Across all racial groups there has been an overall growing gender gap in college degree attainment, with women generally exceeding men in rates of college completion. However, this discrepancy is particularly acute among African Americans, and the gap has widened steadily in the past twenty-five years. In 1979, for every 100 bachelor's

The Economic Plight of Inner-City Black Males


degrees earned by black men, 144 were earned by black women. IIi. 2003-2004, for every 100 bachelor's degrees conferred on black men, 200 were conferred on black women. To put this gap into a larger context, for every 100 bachelor's degrees earned by white men and Hispanic men, white women earned 155 and Hispanic women 131 degrees."

The ever-increasing discrepancy in the college graduation rates of black men and black women is significant because the economic rewards of a college education are particularly high for black males. Figure 3.1, which provides data on the employmentto-population ratio-the percentage of young men who were not in school and who were employed-in 2005, reveals that there is very little difference in the employment rates of black, white, and Hispanic college graduates. The rate is 88.3 percent for whites, 86.2 for blacks, and 80.2 for Hispanics-a range of less than 10 percentage points across all three groups. However, the employment gap widens dramatically when we consider persons with lower levels of education. The employment gap between white young men and black young men ages sixteen to twenty-four who were not in school in 2005 was 20 percentage points for high school dropouts, 16 among high school graduates, 8 for those completing one to three years of college, and, as we saw in the earlier example, only 2 for four-year college graduates. These data show that education plays a key role in enabling black men to secure


Similar to the findings on employment rates for young men out

of school, Figure 3.2 shows that the relative gap in annual earnings between twenty- and twenty-nine-year-old black men and men in the same age group of all racial/ethnic groups decreases at higher levels of education. The median annual earnings of black males with less than a high school education were equivalent to only 15 percent of the earnings of all males who had not completed high school. For instance, if all males with less than a high school education had a median income of $20,000 per year, the black men in this group would have a median income of $3,000 per year. However, the median annual earnings of black high school graduates increased to 64 percent of those earned by all high school graduates, and those of black college graduates were equivalent to 96 percent of the earnings of all men with bachelor's degrees. These data clearly show that the disparity in the earnings of black men and men from other groups is highest among high school dropouts and almost vanishes among college graduates.

The deteriorating economic plight of inner-city, low-skilled black males reduces the relative size of the pool of potential candidates in poorer black communities who can climb the educational ladder and ultimately obtain a college education. Although we lack conclusive evidence, it is reasonable to assume that the growing gap in the college graduation rates of black females and black males stems in part from the socioeconomic woes of those young African American males who are positioned at the bottom of the American occupational structure and who face more obstacles to advancement, including enrollment in college. These obstacles, which arise from both structural and cultural causes, are the focus of this chapter.

TheHole of Structural Factors

Although African American men continue to confront racial barriers in the labor market, many inner-city black males have also been victimized by other structural factors, such as the decreased relative demand for low-skilled labor. The propagation of new technologies is displacing untrained workers and rewarding those with specialized, technical training, while globalization of the economy is increasingly pitting low-skilled workers in the United States against their counterparts around the world, including laborers in countries such as China, India, and Bangladesh who can be employed for substantially lower wages. This decreasing relative demand in the United States for low-skilled labor means that untrained workers face the growing threat of eroding wages and job displacement."

Over the past several decades, African Americans have experienced sharp job losses in the manufacturing sector. Indeed, as John Schmitt and Ben Zipperer point out, "the share of black workers in manufacturing has actually been falling more rapidly than the overall share of manufacturing employment. From the end of the 1970s through the early 1990s, African Americans were just as likely as workers from other racial and ethnic groups to have manufacturing jobs. Since the early 1990s, however, black workers have lost considerable ground in manufacturing. By 2007, blacks were about 15 percent less likely than other workers to have a job in manufacturing." 15 The dwindling proportion of African American workers in manufacturing is important because manufacturing jobs, especially those in the auto industry, have been a significant source of better-paid employment for black Americans since World War II.16

The relative decline of black workers in manufacturing paralleIs their decreasing involvement in unions. From 1983 to 2007 the proportion of all African American workers who were either in unions or represented by a union at their employment site dropped conSiderably, from 31.7 to 15.7 percent. In 2007, African American workers we~e still more likely to be unionized (15.7 percent) than whites (13.5) and Hispanics (10.8). Nonetheless, this reduction (down 16 percentage points) over that time span was greater than that for whites (down 8.9 percentage points) and Hispanics (down 13.4)Y The lack of union representation renders workers more vulnerable in the workplace, especially to cuts in wages and benefits.

Because they tend to be educated in poorly performing public schools, low-skilled black males often enter the job market lacking some of the basic tools that would help them confront changes in their employment p;ospects. Such schools have rigid district bureaucraCies, poor morale among teachers and school principals, low expectations for students, and negative ideologies that justify poor student performance. Inner-city schools fall well below more advantaged suburban schools in science and math resources, and they lack teachers with appropriate preparation in these subjects.18 As a result, students from these schools tend to have poor reading and math skills, important tools for competing in the globalized labor market. Few thoughtful observers of public education would disagree with the view that the poor employment prospects of low-skilled black males are in no small measure related to their public-education experiences.

Their lack of education, which contributes to joblessness, is certainly related to their risk of incarceration. As Bruce Western so brilliantly revealed in his important book Punishment and Inequality in America, follOWing the collapse of the low-skilled urban labor markets and the creation of jobless ghettos in Our nation's inner cities, incarceration grew among those with the

highest rates of joblessness.' ? "By the early 2000s," states Western, "the chances of imprisonment were more closely linked to race and school failure than at any time in the previous twenty years." 20 Between 1979 and 1999, the risk of imprisonment for less educated men nearly doubled. Indeed, a significant proportion of black men who have been in prison are high school dropouts. "Among [black] male high school dropouts the risk of imprisonment [has] increased to 60 percent, establishing incarceration as a normal stopping point on the route to midlife." 21

However, Western's research also revealed that national cultural shifts in values and attitudes contributed to a political context associated with a resurgent Republican Party that focused on punitive "solutions" and worsened the plight of low-skilled black men. This more penal approach to crime was reinforced during Bill Clinton's administration. Indeed, rates of incarceration soared even during periods when the overall crime rate had declined. "The growth in violence among the ghetto poor through the 1960s and 1970s stoked fears of white voters and lurked in the rhetoric of law and order," states Western. "Crime, however, did not drive the rise in imprisonment directly, but formed the background for a new style of politics and punishment. As joblessness and low wages became enduring features of the less skilled innercity economy, the effects of a punitive criminal justice system concentrated on the most disadvantaged." 22 Western estimates that as many as 30 percent of all civilian young adult black males ages sixteen to thirty-four are ex-offenders.P In short, cultural shifts in attitudes toward crime and punishment created structural circumstances-a more punitive criminal justice systemthat have had a powerful impact on low-skilled black males.

Finally, as Harry Holzer and his colleagues remind us, the high amount of child support now required of noncustodial fathers under federal law presents a daunting problem and aggravates theemployment woes of low-skilled black males. Such payments can represent an employment tax of 36 percent of a worker's wages, and if the noncustodial father is in arrears, the federal law allows states to deduct as much as 65 percent of his wages. Many of those who face this higher tax are ex-offenders whose delinquent child support payments accumulated while they were in prison. For many low-skilled black males, high child support payments are a disincentive to remain in the formal labor market and an incentive to move into the casual or informal labor market. 24

This is certainly not to suggest that if these men were relieved of the high child support payments they would be more likely to make predictable and routine support payments to the mothers of their children, even if they derived income from the underground economy (i.e., including income from jobs in the informal labor market that skirt federal pay regulations and pay their employees "under the table"). It is also not to suggest that fathers should not provide financial support to their children. Rather, the potential of high child support payments can be added to the list of structural factors that contribute to the joblessness of poor black men as officially defined.

For inner-city black male workers, the problems created by these structural factors have been aggravated by employers' negative attitudes toward black men as workers. A representative sample of Chicago-area employers by my research team in the late 1980s clearly reveals employer bias against black males.P A substantial majority of employers considered inner-city black males to be uneducated, uncooperative, unstable, or dishonest. 26 For example, a suburban drug store manager made the following comment:

. It's unfortunate but, in my business I think overall [black men] tend to be known to be dishonest. I think that's too bad but that's the image they have. (Interviewer: So you think it's an image problem?) Respondent: An image problem of being dishonest men and lazy. They're known to be lazy. They are [laughs]. I hate to tell you, but. It's all an image though. Whether they are or not, I don't know, but, it's an image that is perceived, (Interviewer: I see. How do you think that image was developed?) Respondent:

Go look in the jails [laughs].

The president of an inner-city manufacturing firm expressed a different reservation about employing black males from certain ghetto neighborhoods:

If somebody gave me their address, uh, Cabrini Green I might unavoidably have some concerns. (Interviewer: What would your concerns be?) Respondent: That the poor guy probably would be frequently unable to get to work.and ... I probably would watch him more carefully even if it wasn't fair, than I would with somebody else. I know what I should do though is recognize that here's a guy that is trying to get out of his situation and probably will work harder than somebody else who's already out of there and he might be the best one around here. But I think I would have to struggle accepting that premise at the beginning.

The prevalence of such attitudes, combined with the physical and social isolation of minorities living in inner-city areas of concentrated poverty, severely limits the access that poor black men have to informal job networks (the casual networks of people or acquaintances who can pass along information about employment prospects). This is a notable problem for black males, especially considering that many low-skilled employees first learn about their jobs through an acquaintance or were recommended by someone associated with the company. Research suggests that only a small percentage of low-skilled employees are hired through advertised job openings or cold calls.s? The importance of knowing someone who knows the boss can be seen by another employer's comments to our interviewer:

All of a sudden, they take a look at a guy, and unless he's got an in, the reason why I.hired this black kid the last time is cause my neighbor said to me, yeah I used him for a few [days], he's good, and I said, you know what, I'm going to take a chance. But it was a recommendation. But other than that, I've got a walk-in, and, who knows? And I think that for the most part, a guy sees a black man, he's a bit hesitant.

These attitudes are classic examples of what social scientists call statistical discrimination: employers make generalizations about inner-city, black male workers and reach decisions based on those assumptions without reviewing the qualifications of an individual applicant. The net effect is that many inner-city, black male applicants are never given the opportunity to prove themselves. Although some of these men Scorn entry-level jobs because of the poor working conditions and low wages, many others would readily accept such employment. And although statistical discrimination contains some elements of class bias against poor, inner-city workers, it is clearly a racially motivated practice. It is a frustrating and disturbing fact that inner-city black males are effectively screened out of employment far more often than their Hispanic or white peers who apply for the same jobs. A number of other studies have documented employer bias against black males. For example, research by Devah Pager revealed that a white applicant with a felony conviction was more likely to receive a callback or job offer than was a black applicant with a clean record. 28 discuss these attitudes in this section on the impact of structural factors because the cultural framework of employers is definitely related to patterns of employer discrimination-a structural factor. As Erik Olin Wright reminded me, "one person's social structure is another person's culture." 29 As the employers see it, they are expressing not only dominant cultural views about low-skilled black men that are shared by many members of the larger society, but also the shared views of employers regarding their interactions with both immigrant and poor African American workers. As the young black men seeking employment see it, the culturally shaped practice of employers is a "structure"-a pattern of exclusion that is systematically enforced through repeated rejections of their job applications. However, not only do employers share some common cultural beliefs or perceptions about black males, but they also have the power to affect the lives of these black men when they act on those beliefs. Employers make hiring decisions, which is an exercise of power, and their decisions are based on their control over economic resources.

Unfortunately, shifts in the economy from manufacturing to service industries have accompanied changes in the criminal justice system and compounded the negative effects of employers' attitudes toward inner-city black males. Today, most of the new jobs for workers with limited education and experience are in the service sector, which includes jobs that tend to be held by women, such as waitresses, sales clerks, and health care aides. Indeed, "employment rates of young black women now exceed those of young black men, even though many of these women must also care for children.P"

The shift to service industries has resulted in a greater demand for workers who can effectively serve and relate to the consumer. Many employers in our study favored women and recent immigrants of both genders (who have come to populate the labor pool in the low-wage service sector) over black men for service jobs. Employers in service industries felt that consumers perceived inner-City black males to be dangerous or threatening in part because of their high incarceration rates. In the past, men simply had to demonstrate a strong back and muscles to be hired for physical labor in a factory, at a construction site, or on an assembly line; they interacted with peers and foremen, not with consumers. Today, they have to search for work in the service sector, where employers are less likely to hire them because they are seen as unable to sustain .positive contact with the public. Employers in the study maintained that black males lack the soft skills that their jobs require: the tendency to maintain eye contact, the ability to carryon polite and friendly conversations with consumers, the inclination to smile and be responsive to consumer requests no matter how demanding or unreasonable they may seem. Consequently, black male job seekers face rising rates of rejection.

Employer attitudes favoring Hispanic workers over innercity black workers have also affected black male participation in temporary-employment agencies, which connect unskilled workers to employers in the construction and restaurant industries. Research on the pattern of temporary-employment agencies in Chicago reveals that they tend to be located in neighborhoods with large Latino populations and that they tend to avoid African American neighborhoods. The researchers, Jamie Peck and Nik Theodore, point out that these "agencies' work allocation systems favor 'reliably contingent' workers who are available every day and whose work attitudes, job capabilities and personal attributes render them acceptable to employers ... In providing what employers want and expect, these temp agencies harden and institutionalize processes of labor segmentation at the point of entry into the job market ... to the detriment of African-American workers." 31

The high incarceration rates of low-skilled black males are very much connected to their high jobless rates. It is a vicious cycle. Being without a job can encourage illegal moneymaking activities in order to make ends meet, which increases the risks of incarceration. Upon release from incarceration, a prison record carries a stigma in the eyes of employers and decreases the probability that an ex-offender will be hired, resulting in a greater likelihood of even more intractable joblessness.F

Forced to turn to the low-wage service sector for employment, inner-city black males-including a significant number of exoffenders-have to compete, often unsuccessfully, with a growing number of female and immigrant workers. If these men complain or otherwise manifest their dissatisfaction, they seem even more unattractive to employers and therefore encounter even greater discrimination when they search for employment. Because the feelings that many inner-city black males express about their jobs and job prospects reflect their plummeting position in a changing economy, it is important to link these attitudes and other cultural traits with the opportunity structure-that is, the spectrum of life chances available to them in society at large.33

Many people would agree that both the structural factors and the national cultural factors discussed earlier have had a very large

impact on the experiences of low-skilled black males.l" But no such consensus exists with respect to the role of cultural factors that have emerged in inner-city ghetto neighborhoods in shaping and directing the lives of young black men.

The Role of Cultural Factors

Throughout this discussion I have suggested that cultural factors must be brought to bear if we are to explain economic and social outcomes for racial groups. The exploration of the cultural dimension must do three things: (1) provide a compelling reason for including cultural factors in a comprehensive discussion of race and poverty, (2) show the relationship between cultural analysis and structural analysis, and (3) determine the extent to which cultural factors operate independently to contribute to or reinforce poverty and racial inequality. However, the evidence for the influence of cultural factors on the social and economic circumstances of low-skilled black males is far less compelling than structural arguments, in part because of a dearth of research in this area.

According to Orlando Patterson of Harvard University, since the mid-1960s a strong bias against cultural explanations for human behavior has led social scientists and policy analysts to ignore different groups' distinctive cultural attributes in favor of an emphasis on structural factors to account for the behavior and social outcomes of its members. So instead of looking at attitudes, norms, values, habits, and worldviews (all indications of cultural orientations), we focus on joblessness, iow socioeconomic status, and underperforming public schoolS-in short, structural factors.

Patterson revisited the role of culture and raised several questions that might be better addressed when cultural elements are considered in conjunction with structural and historical explanations. Patterson asks, "Why do so many young unemployed black men have children-several of them-which they have no resources or intention to support? And why ... do they murder each other at nine times the rate of white youths?" And, he adds, why do young black males turn their backs on low-wage jobs that immigrants are happy to fil1?3S Referring to research conducted by UCLA sociologist Roger Waldinger,36 Patterson states that such jobs enable the chronically unemployed to enter the labor market and obtain basic work skills that they can later use in securing better jobs. But he also notes that those who accepted the low-paying jobs in Waldinger's study were mostly immigrants.

To help answer his own questions about the behavior of young black men in the ghetto, Patterson refers to anecdotal evidence collected several years ago by one of his former students. He states that the student visited her former high school to discover why "almost all the black girls graduated and went to college whereas nearly all the black boys either failed to graduate or did not go on to college.?" Her distressing finding was that all of the black boys ,were fully aware of the consequences of failing to graduate from high school and go on to college. (They indignantly exclaimed, "We're not stupid!") . So, Patterson wonders, why were they flunking out?38 The candid answer that these young men gave to his former student was their preference for what some call the "coolpose culture" of young black men, which they found too fulfilling to give up.39 "For these young men, it was almost like a drug, hanging out on the street after school; shopping and dressing sharply, sexual conquests, party drugs, hip-hop music and culture." 40

Patterson maintains that cool-pose culture blatantly promotes the most anomalous models of behavior in urban, lower-class neighborhoods, featuring gangsta rap, predatory sexuality, and irresponsible fathering. "It is reasonable to conclude," he states, "that among a large number of urban, Afro-American lower-class young men, these models are now fully normative and that men act in accordance with them whenever they can."" For example, Patterson argues that black male pride has become increasingly defined in terms of the impregnation of women. However, this trend is not unique to the current generation of young black males, he notes. Several decades ago the sociologist Lee Rainwater uncovered a similar pattern. Not only did a majority of the inner-city, young black male respondents he interviewed state that they were indifferent to the fact that their girlfriends were pregnant, but some even expressed the proud belief that getting a girl pregnant proves you're a man.t- The fact that Elijah Anderson and others discovered identical models decades later suggests the possibility of a pattern of cultural transmission-that is, the attitudes and behaviors valorizing a kind of "footloose fatherhood" have been passed down to younger generations.43 A counterargument-one that does not assume cultural transmission-could also be posed: young black men in roughly similar structural positions in different generations developed similar cultural responses.

Patterson argues that a thoughtful cultural explanation of the self-defeating behavior of poor, young black men could not only speak to the immediate relationship of their attitudes, behavior, and undesirable outcomes, but also examine their brutalized past, perhaps over generations, to investigate the origins and changing nature of these views and practices. Patterson maintains that we cannot understand the behavior of young black men without deeply examining their collective past."

I believe that Patterson tends to downplay the importance of immediate socioeconomic factors: if there is indeed a coolpose culture, it is reasonable to assume that it is partly related to employment failures and disillusionment with the poorly performing public schools and possibly has its roots in the special social circumstances fostered by pre-1960s legal segregation. But I fully concur with Patterson's view that cultural explanations that include historical context should be part of our attempt to fully account for behavior that is so contradictory to mainstream ideas of how work and family should fit into a man's life. I also believe it is exceedingly difficult to determine the relative balance between cultural and structural arguments in explaining the behavior and the social and economic circumstances in which we find poor, young black males.

Nevertheless, it is one thing to acknowledge that cultural factors ought to be included in our quest for understanding, but quite another thing to advance cultural explanations that are based on real evidence. Take, for example, the writings of the conservative political scientist Lawrence Mead on the black subculture." Mead boldly asserts that the difficulties blacks experience in the labor market are due in large measure to subcultures of defeatism and resistance. He argues that defeatism is expressed whenever blacks confront difficulties in finding and keeping jobs-for example, obtaining reliable transportation to and from work. Mead contends that blacks give up in the face of such difficulties and tend to place blame on their unique circumstances or on the actions of others in the larger society for their employment woes, including the discrimination of employers. They then sit back, Mead argues, and wait for others to initiate action that would improve their situation. Mead contends that this failure to assume personal responsibility stems from deeply internalized feelings of helplessness rooted in slavery, as a result of a "paradoxical reliance on the oppressor to undo oppression," and passed on from generation to generation."

In Mead's effort to dismiss immediate structural factors, however, he provides no empirical evidence that this "defeatism" is an outgrowth of slavery experiences.f Nor does his explanation account for why joblessness in the inner city today is. so much higher than it was, say, in the 1950s and '60s, when an overwhelming majority of poor black adult males were working. Indeed, if we look solely at the data gathered by social scientists in the field, there is not a great deal of evidence for a subculture of defeatism; on the contrary, we see evidence of black struggles to participate, through work, in the American dream.

In her ethnographic research-that is, work using evidence gathered through field observation and through extended, often repeated, interviews-Katherine Newman reveals that young, low-wage workers in New York City's Harlem neighborhood not only adhere to mainstream values regarding work, but also tend to accept low-skilled, low-wage, often dead-end jobs.48 In his impressive study of how young, inner-city black men perceive Opportunity and mobility in the United States, Alford Young found that although some men associated social mobility with the economic opportunity structure, incl~ding race- and class-based discrimination, all of his respondents shared the view that individuals are largely accountable for their failure to advance in society.49

The research conducted by my team in Chicago provides only mixed evidence for a subculture of defeatism. Consistent with Liebow's findings in Tally's Corner, the ethnographic research in our study revealed that many young black males had experienced repeated failures in their job search, had given up hope, and therefore no longer bothered to look for work." This discouragement has some parallels with Mead's thesis, but Our research pointed to negative employer attitudes and actions toward low-skilled black males as powerful influences in this cycle. Our ethnographic research suggested that repeated failure results in resignation and the development of cultural attitudes that discourage the pursuit of steady employment in the formal labor market.

On the other hand, data from our large, random survey of black residents in the inner City revealed that despite the Overwhelming joblessness and poverty around them, black residents in ghetto neighborhoods, consistent with the findings of Alford Young, spoke unambiguously in support of basic American values concerning individual initiative. For example, nearly all of the black people we questioned felt that plain hard work is either very important or somewhat important for getting ahead. In addition, in a series of open-ended interviews conducted by members of our research team, participants overwhelmingly endorsed the dominant American belief system concerning poverty. The views of some of these individuals-who lived in some of the most destitute neighborhoods in America-were particularly revealing. A substantial majority agreed that America is a land of opportunity where anybody can get ahead, and that individuals get pretty

much what they deserve."

The response of a thirty-four-year-old black male, a resident in a ghetto area of the South Side of Chicago where 29 percent of the population was destitute (i.e., with incomes 75 percent below the poverty line) was typical: "Everybody get pretty much what they deserve because if everybody wants to do better they got to go out there and try. If they don't try, they won't make it." Another black male who was residing in an equally impoverished South Side neighborhood stated, "For some it's a land of opportunity, but you can't just let opportunity come knock on your door, you just got to go ahead and work for it. You got to go out and get it for vourself." Although their support of this abstract American ideal was not always consistent with their perceptions and descriptions of the social barriers that impeded the social progress of their neighbors and friends, these endorsements stand in strong contrast to the subculture of defeatism that Mead describes. Nonetheless, I should note that there is frequently a gap between what people state in the abstract and what they perceive to be possible for themselves given their own situations. In other words, it should not be surprising if some residents support the abstract American ideal of individual initiative and still feel that they cannot get ahead, because of factors beyond their control.

The inconsistency between what people say in the abstract and what they believe applies to them may be seen in other ways. Jennifer Hochschild's analysis of national survey data reveals that poor blacks tend to acknowledge the importance of discrimination when they respond to national surveys, but they are not likely to feel that it affects them personally.s2 Often, discrimination is the least mentioned factor among other important forces that black people select when asked what determines their chances in life. Thus, among poor blacks, structural factors such as discrimination and declining job opportunities "do not register as major impediments to achieving their goals. Deficient motivation and individual effort do." 53 The emphasis that poor blacks place on the importance of personal attributes over structural factors for success in America should not come as a surprise. As Hochschild astutely points out, "poor African Americans are usually badly educated and not widely traveled, so they are unlikely to see structural patterns underlying individual actions and situations. Thus even if (or because) the American dream fails as a description of American society, it is a highly seductive prescription for succeeding in that society to those who cannot see the underlying flaw."s4 To repeat, the evidence for a subculture of defeatism is mixed. Nonetheless, until more compelling studies are produced, it remains an important hypothesis for research.

In addition to a subculture of defeatism, Mead argues, a subculture of resistance affects black employment outcomes. Like Orlando Patterson-who asserts, on the basis of Roger Waldinger's work, that "black males turn their backs on jobs that immigrants are happy to fill"ss-Mead argues that the subculture of resistance is not a response to being overwhelmed by the difficulties of obtaining and keeping jobs, but rather an expression of disdain for the jobs-work they feel is too difficult, dirty, demeaning, and poorly paid. And Mead's subculture-of-resistance argument asserts that many African Americans reject low-paying and menial jobs, even though they do not have the qualifications for higherpaying, more satisfying employment. Thus, whereas the subculture of defeatism is a result of having too little pride to succeed in the labor market, the subculture of resistance reflects too much pride to accept menial employment.56

Again, neither Patterson nor Mead provides any systematic evidence for a subculture of resistance among the black poor. There is, of course, Patterson's assertion, based on Waldinger's research, that Latino immigrants are more eager workers than inner-city blacks when low-income jobs are available. But Waldinger provides no direct evidence that the black poor in New York reject jobs that immigrants are ready to accept." For his part, Mead simply asserts that poor black youth will not accept menial jobs because, research reveals, they have relatively high standards for what they feel they must be paid before they will accept a job-a concept known as reservation wages. 58 As Sandra Smith points out, however, "because Mead does not examine closely and systematically the process of finding work that the black poor undertake, he critically misstates the meanings that the black poor attach to work, job finding, and joblessness." 59 Indeed, argues Smith, "the weight of the evidence indicates that the black poor are not resistant to low-wage work." 60

If there is insufficient evidence to support the claim that poor blacks tend to reject low-wage work, one careful study suggests that the issue has less to do with a subculture of resistance and more to do with the different cultural frames that immigrants and blacks bring to low-wage jobs. Harvard sociologist Mary Waters' research reveals that West Indian and African American food service workers approach the same menial job with a different mind-set, as reflected in dissimilar attitudes and motivation. For many West Indian immigrants, low-paying jobs are actually seen as "good" jobs, when one considers the wages they would receive in their home countries; whereas African Americans view them as "bad" jobs that remind them of their relatively subordinate socioeconomic position in our society. This does not mean outright rejection of these jobs as Mead asserts, but resentment that they have to accept such work.?'

The Economic Plight of Inner-City Black Males


Stephen Petterson's research provides the most impressive evidence challenging the subculture-of-resistance thesis. 62 Trained as a SOCiologist and social statistician, he set out to test assumptions associated with the subculture-of-resistance argument-namely, that low-skilled, young black men are less willing to pursue or accept low-paying jobs because of higher reservation wages (wages that workers are willing to accept for employment), and that their excessive reservation wages result in longer periods of joblessness. Petterson relied on data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY)-which has been tracking since 1979 a nationally representative sample of more than 12,000 men and women who were between the ages of fourteen and twenty-one on January 1, 1978-to test the subculture-of-resistance thesis. Confining his sample to black men and white men who were not employed, not enrolled in school, and not in jail when interviewed, and who had previous work experience (a total of 2,179 persons), Petterson analyzed annual data on their self-reported reservation wages for jobs that they had sought between 1979 and 1986-the only years such data were collected.

Despite the relative decline in high-paying manufacturing jobs during the 1970s and '80s, argues Petterson, "the 'Great American Machine' has produced millions of jobs. Most, however, offer low wages and little job security." 63 Nonetheless, he adds, the hardcore unemployed may even experience increased difficulty obtaining low-wage jobs, since employers often feel they are unreliable because of their prolonged spells of joblessness. Moreover, the unemployed often compete directly with more highly skilled workers, who themselves end up applying for lesser positions when they experience difficulty finding better jobs. "Indeed," Petterson states, "long queues form even for minimum wage jobs." ?" Once again we see that structural factors playa powerful role in the apportioning of jobs and the benefits that they bring. And Petterson's research does, in fact, show that low-skilled black workers have relatively high reservation wages in comparison with their previous wages, which ori the face of things might lead us to conclude that Mead is right to embrace this as a major reason for their joblessness.f

Petterson, however, advances an alternative explanation of young, low-skilled black men's relatively high reservation wages, which pertains to the issue of wage fairness. He states, "There may be systematic differences between what job-seekers state in public and what they actually do when confronted with a job offer." 66 He points out that previous research on reservation wages reveals that the reservation wages of job seekers at the bottom of the wage distribution are higher than their previous wages, while the reservation wages of those near the top of the wage distribution are lower than their previous wages.v Thus, the fact that reservation wages of poor blacks are higher than their previous wages might be mainly due to their heavy concentration in low-wage jobs and their relatively low starting point-at the lower end of the pastwage distribution.

Petterson's findings lend support to this alternative explanation. He compared the sample of unemployed workers' previous wages with their reservation wages and found that blacks sought wages 16 percent higher than their previous wages; by contrast, whites sought wages that were only 10 percent higher. However, Petterson argues that these results do not necessarily reveal "cultural differences in willingness to work" among blacks because the greater discrepancy in reservation wages and previous wages may simply be a function of their greater concentration in previous low-wage jobs.68 Indeed, Petterson finds no evidence that the reservation wages of blacks are excessively high. "In fact the opposite may be true," he states. Blacks in the ninth decile of the wage distribution-that is, those who are paid less than 90 percent of what the general workforce earns-report a mean reservation

wage of only $5.41, lower than the mean of $6.19 for comparable whites. "The race difference is even greater in the last decile," states Petterson. "EVidently the higher reservation wages relative to past wages reported by blacks are due to their concentration at the lower endof the past-wage distribution. At most levels of previous wages, I find no significant differences in reservation wages." 69

Moreover, Petterson found no support for the cultural argument that low-skilled black job seekers "experience longer jobless spells because of their excessive reservation wages." ? Indeed, his results reveal that reported reservation wages do not have a significant impact on the duration of joblessness. Although low-skilled blacks have a clear set of norms defining fair and unfair wages, these norms tend not to be binding when they are.confront-zl with realistic job situations. What they say they will do is frequently not consistent with what they actually do when receiving a job offer. In a related study, Petterson found that just one or two weeks after stating their reservation wages, 30.8 percent of white workers and 41.5 percent of black workers accepted jobs with wages below their reported reservation wages."

Although Petterson's research shows that there are good alternatives to the subculture-of-resistance arguments, one cannot conclude from his findings that black and white youths do not draw a line on certain low-wage jobs. They may decline the option of working alongSide recent immigrants for subminimum wages in filthy sweatshop jobs, consistent with Orlando Patterson's arguments that young black males will refuse jobs that at least some immigrants are willing to take. Nonetheless, as Petterson argues, "despite the dramatic decline in the wages earned by disadvantaged workers, many hope to earn modest but decent wages comparable to those still earned by at least some of the more fortunate low-skilled workers. With few options, however, they often settle for less." 72 This astute point is overlooked in Mead's unsupported assertion that young black workers are unwilling to accept menial employment_?3

If the evidence to support arguments concerning a subculture of defeatism and a subculture of resistance is at best mixed, Sandra Smith provides a compelling and nuanced cultural analysis of other factors that contribute to the complex and often difficult world of work inhabited by low-skilled blacks. Smith conducted in-depth interviews with 105 black men and women in Michigan between the ages of twenty and forty who had no more than a high school education so that she could examine the informal personal networks of low-skilled black job holders and job seekers.i"

Before we consider her findings, it might be useful to point out that Smith's study was motivated in part to test some of the intriguing findings revealed by our earlier Chicago research. As I pointed out in Chapter 1, the breakdown of informal job information networks aggravates the problems of job spatial mismatch." This means that people who live in areas of concentrated poverty are both physically and socially isolated from jobs. In our Chicago research we found that overall, the personal friendship networks of blacks (both male and female) are very limited. For example, the poor blacks we talked to in our fieldwork were less likely to have at least one employed close friend than were Mexican immigrants of similar income and education. Because these people lacked friends with jobs, they tended not to hear about possible job opportunities or even different types of employment. This form of social isolation handicapped the residents of inner-city black neighborhoods; as many stable working neighbors drifted away, the ties connecting the remaining residents to the world of work came undone. Analysis of our ethnographic data for the remaining poor and often unemployed residents revealed that "social contacts were a useful means of gaining informal work to help make ends meet but far less often successful in helping with steady employment in the formal economy; networks existed but largely lacked the capacity to help lift residents into the formal labor market.'' 76

Moreover, our data on job search behavior revealed that black men and women in the inner City were less likely than Mexican immigrants to report that they had received help from a friend or relative in obtaining their current job. The job search strategies that inner-city black residents most frequently reported using were filling out an application at a place of business and seeking assistance at an employment office. Seldom did anyone report that they had heard about a job from an acquaintance or a friend.

Smith's data provide new information to help explain why informal job networks among blacks were less useful in helping job seekers find employment in the formal econoITIy. She found that distrust on the part of black job holders and the defensive individualism typical of black job seekers profoundly affected the use of job referrals in the search for employment. She points out that the neighborhoods of the black poor are "characterized by chronic poverty and a history of exploitation" and tend to feed the inclination to distrust, "inhibiting the development of mutually beneficial cooperative relationships such as those that facilitate the job-matching process." ? The cooperation between job seekers and job holders is thwarted by a lack of mutual trust. Thus, lowskilled black job seekers are frequently unable to use their friendships, acquaintances, and family ties-their informal network-to gain employment. Black job holders were reluctant to refer their relatives and friends for jobs because they feared that their Own reputations with employers could be jeopardized if the work of the people they recommended was substandard.

Accordingly, instead of exhibiting a subculture of defeatism or resistance, Smith found that her low-skilled subjects displayed a discourse of individualism. On the one hand, job holders justified denying assistance to their relatives and friends by saying that these individuals lacked motivation and individual responsibility. On the other hand, many low-skilled job seekers, particularly black males-"cognizant of how they are perceived by others in their social milieu" and concerned about being demeaned for their unemployment-hesitated to approach their peers for referrals." This "go it alone" approach proves enormously self-defeating because employers in low-skilled labor markets rely heavily on personal referrals. Smith's analysis provides an excellent example of how cultural frames (shared visions of human behavior developed from the micro-level processes of meaning making and decision making) orient action-in this case, the limited use of job referrals.

If there was a lack of cooperation between black job seekers and job holders, Smith also found contention and distrust between young, black male job seekers and the staff members of a state job center. The common assumption among the staff members was that the young black men did not really want to make the effort required to find jobs. This assumption hurt the employment prospects of the job seekers because the job center, a private contractor hired by the state of Michigan, was concerned about meeting performance quotas and therefore tended to screen out the riskiest candidates-those who had the greatest employment obstacles and required the most help_79 Smith's study further substantiates the importance of combining a definitive cultural analysis (exploring the effects ofa tendency to distrust and the discourse of individualism in the black community) with a structural explanation (focusing on the impact of discriminatory actions of the staff members of a job center) to account for the employment outcomes of low-skilled, young black males.


In the previous chapter I argued, on the basis of available evidence, that structural explanations of concentrated poverty in the inner city have far greater significance than cultural arguments, even


though neither should be considered in isolation if we are seeking a comprehensive understanding of racial inequality because structural and cultural forces often interact in affecting the experiences and chances in life of particular racial group members. The evidence discussed in this chapter supports a similar conclusion: structural explanations of the economic woes of low-skilled black men are far more significant than cultural arguments, even though structural and cultural forces jointly restrict black male progress in some situations.

The disproportionate number of low-skilled black males in this country is one of the legacies of historical segregation and discrimination. However, aside from the effects of current segregation and discrimination, including those caused by employer bias, I highlighted a number of impersonal economic forces that have contributed to the incredibly high jobless rate of low-skilled black males and their correspondingly low incomes. These forces include the decreased relative demand for low-skilled labor caused by the computer revolution, the globalization of economic activity, the declining manufacturing sector, and the growth of service industries in which most of the new jobs for workers with limited skills and education are concentrated.

I noted that the shift to service industries has created a new set of problems for low-skilled black males because those industries feature jobs that require workers to serve and relate to consumers. Why are such requirements a problem for black men? Simply because employers believe that women and recent immigrants of both genders are better suited than black males, especially those with prison records, for such jobs. This image has been created partly by cultural shifts in national attitudes that reflected concerns about the growth of violence in the ghettos through the 1960s and '70s. In the eyes of many Americans, black males symbolized this violence. Cries for "law and order" resulted in a more punitive criminal justice system and a dramatic increase in black male incarceration.

Cultural arguments have been advanced to explain the social and economic woes of low-skilled black males, but the evidence is mixed. For example, a number of studies have associated black joblessness with high reservation wages, the lowest wages that a worker is willing to accept. Nonetheless, one of the more compelling studies found no significant relationship between the reservation wages of black men and the duration of joblessness. The findings in an important recent study, however, clearly suggest that chronic poverty and exploitation in poor black neighborhoods tend to feed inclinations to distrust. These cultural traits undermine the development of cooperative relationships that are so vital in informal job networks. Black workers in the inner city tend to be less willing to recommend friends and relatives for jobs that become available. Thus, the structural problem of employer job discrimination and the cultural inclination to distrust combine to severely handicap low-skilled, black male workers, especially those with prison records.

DMU Timestamp: March 08, 2013 19:51