The Economic Plight of Inner-City Black Males

More Than Just Race
William Julius Wilson
University Professor at Harvard
Past president of the American
Sociological Association
Published in 2010
Harry Herbert & Eric Toepfer
Structural and Cultural Forces That
Contribute to Racial Inequality
The Forces Shaping Concentrated Poverty
The Economic Plight of the Inner-City
Black Males
The Fragmentation of the Poor Black
Conclusion: proposals and take home
Structural and Cultural Forces that
Contribute to Racial Inequality
Social Structure
Fundamental Question
“What is the relative importance of each
of these two dimensions in accounting for
the formation and persistence of the
inner-city ghetto, the plight of black
males, and breakdown of the black
Structural Forces
2 types contribute to racial group
outcomes such as differences in poverty
and employment rate:
◦ Social acts (behavior of individuals w/in
◦ Social processes (“machinery” of society that
exists to promote ongoing relations among
members of the larger group)
Impact of Cultural Forces
2 types:
◦ National views and beliefs on race.
◦ Cultural traits that emerge from patterns of
intragroup interaction in settings created by
discrimination and segregation and that reflect
collective experiences within those settings.
 Racism, living in racially segregated
Forces Shaping Concentrated
Role of political Actions:
 Redlining
 Freeways
 Suburbanization
 Federal Public Housing Policies
◦ Housing Act of 1949
Shift in federal gov’t support for basic urban
Decline in federal support for cities-1980and increase in immigration of people from
poorer countries.
Impact of Economic Forces
Metropolitan development
 Relationship between technology and
international competition.
◦ Eroded basic institutions of mass production
◦ Drastically reduced importance of physical
Spatial mismatch created by sprawl and
economic stagnation.
Role of Cultural Factors
Neighborhood effects:
◦ Living in a racially segregated, poor
neighborhood is exposed to cultural framing,
habits, styles of behavior, and particular skills
that emerge from patterns of racial exclusion.
◦ These practices are not conducive to social
Concentrated Poverty Study
Patrick Sharkley (Panel Study of Income
 The study revealed that residing in
disadvantaged neighborhoods impedes
academic development.
 Majority of Black families reside in poorest
neighborhood for consecutive generations.
◦ Compared to only 7% of white families.
Structure vs. Culture a brief
Although cultural forces play a role in
inner-city outcomes, they are secondary
to the larger economic and political
forces, both racial and nonracial, that
move American society.
The Economic Plight of Inner-City
Black Males
Role of structural
Role of cultural
African American Men in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhoods
# of Bachelor’s Degrees
Percentage of men
Employment to population ratios of nonenrolled 16-24
males by educational attainment and racial/ethic group
in the United States, 2005
Percentage of black median
income that is equivalent to the
median income of all men, by
educational group
Ratio of the Median Annual Earnings of 20-29 year old
black men to all men by educational attainment, 20042005
Average annual earnings of 24 year old males in
bottom 25% of the earnings distribution between 2000
and 2004 in their ethnic group
Role of Structural Factors
“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.” (76)
Decreased relative
demand for low-skilled
labor caused by the
computer revolution
The globalization of
economic activity
The declining
manufacturing sector
The growth of the
service sector
Bruce Western
“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” (72)
Employer attitudes
“In my business black men tend to be
known to be dishonest…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…It’s all an image though.
Whether they are or not, I don’t know.”
Role of Cultural Factors
Cool-Pose Culture
Culture of
Culture of
Cool-Pose Culture
Orlando Patterson
“Hanging out on the
street after school,
shopping and
dressing sharply,
sexual conquest,
party drugs, and
hip-hop music.”
Culture of Defeatism
Weak Evidence
Same Work Values
Culture of Resistance
Weak Evidence
Reservation Wages
“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.” (94)
The Fragmentation of the Poor
Black Family
Role of Structure
Role of Culture
Percentage of black births to
unmarried women
US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Trends in Illegitimacy 1940-1965,
Nonmarital Childbearing in the United States 1940-1999, US Department of Health and
Human Services, Births: Preliminary Data for 2005
US Bureau of the Census
“Children from low-income households
without fathers present are more likely to
be school dropouts, become teenage
parents, receive lower earnings in young
adulthood, be welfare recipients, and
experience cognitive, emotional, and
social problems.” (102)
Role of Structural Factors
Role of Culture
Cultural continuity
The Mexican
American family
and the black family
Cultural framings of
marriage and
Cultural Continuity
transferred through
Weak evidence
Mexican Americans & Blacks
Mexican Immigrants
have a strong
concept of the
traditional family
Strong attachment to
the labor force
Likely to change the
longer they are
exposed to US
norms. (117)
Mexican American
women born in the
US divorce at 40.9
percent compared to
13.1 percent of
women born in
Mexico. (117)
Cultural Framings of Marriage and
Current research is weak
 New structural realities
◦ Diminishing employment opportunities
Changing norms
◦ “changing patterns of family formation are not
limited to the inner-city black community but
are part of wider societal trends.” (129)
Structure more important
-The evidence to support the cultural
continuity thesis is insufficient
-Research reveals that the cultural responses
among poor women – black, white, and
Puerto Rican – tend to be similar.
-“we can only speculate whether the historic
racial experiences of inner-city African
American women have uniquely influenced
their cultural framings of marriage and
Structural and Cultural Forces That
Contribute to Racial Inequality
The Forces Shaping Concentrated Poverty
The Economic Plight of Inner-City Black
The Fragmentation of the Poor Black
Framing the Issue
Take Home Lessons
Framing the Issue
New Deal era – structure
Today - individual initiative
Emphasize personal responsibility with
government support.
◦ “people who are working should not be poor”
Take Home Lessons
Culture and Structure are not mutually
One persons culture is another persons
Culture is often an outcome of structural
Structural factors have the greatest influence
over racial inequality today.
Future policies that address these factors
must be framed in a way that acknowledges
the role of structural forces.