Notes on :

Are jobs the solution? Loury, Glenn C. The Wilson Quarterly. Washington: Autumn 1996.Vol.20, Iss. 4;  pg. 89, 4 pgs

1.      Loury begins his critique of Wilson’s theories with this comment:


Wilson has received just about every honor available to a scholar of modern society, including a recent invitation to join the prestigious National Academy of Sciences--  a rare achievement among sociologists, whose work is often regarded by "hard" scientists as less than rigorous.


What is Loury’s point?


2.      What are Wilson’s recommendations for government programs to address the problems facing poor people in our inner cities?

The cure would be a federally supported social policy agenda that includes

a.      greatly expanded public works to provide jobs of last resort,

b.      employment training for unskilled or displaced adult workers,

c.       universal and publicly provided health care,

d.      greater tax credits for low-income workers,

e.       and subsidized child care.

Wilson believes that these reforms can be made politically palatable because “[t]he instruments of policy most likely to improve the condition of the black poor will also benefit the white working class.”

3.      What data has Wilson used to substantiate his theory that lack of jobs is at the core of the problems facing the inner city?

“Wilson's diagnosis and prescription are supported by the Urban Poverty and Family Life Study (UPFLS), a massive, decade-long, multimillion-dollar empirical inquiry into the economic and social life of several impoverished Chicago neighborhoods (some practically in the shadow of the university). Assisted by an army of graduate students, Wilson and his colleagues have interviewed hundreds of housing project dwellers, community activists, employers, social service professionals, welfare recipients, and working class residents.”


How does Loury manage to de-legitmize this collection of sociological data?

First, Wilson has misused the data:

He is using a logical trick to support a purely ideological response to the problem. Loury says, “
For someone purporting to be a scientist, Wilson's views on this complex matter seem surprisingly dogmatic.”

For Loury the key question is instead,


“How do individual behavioral problems interact with pathological cultural patterns and impediments to economic opportunity to produce intractable, multigenerational poverty?”


Wilson suggests that America blames individuals for poverty rather “structural problems for which society should take responsibility.”

“Wilson's data and proposed solutions are linked by his central "scientific" claims: that the absence of "good jobs at good wages" has precipitated social collapse, and that until employment opportunities are restored in the central cities, the tragic disintegration to be observed there will continue apace.”

“Many readers, convinced of the need for drastic action, will endorse his call for "social rights," alongside economic and political rights, for every citizen of the United States.”


4.       How does Loury uses the data to support a conservative understanding of the nature of the problem:

“The most valuable feature of his book is its summary of the UPFLS data. Whether showing

a.       the impact of drug trafficking on social cohesion,

b.      the attitudes among men and women toward marriage and childbearing, or

c.       the beliefs of employers about the work habits of various ethnic groups, Wilson's findings are invariably provocative and troubling.


5.      Loury’s Rebuttal:

“Here is the problem: too many ghetto dwellers are unfit for work. They have not been socialized within families to delay gratification, exercise self-control, communicate effectively, accept responsibility, and feel empathy for their fellows. These deficits are not genetic; they reflect the disadvantages of being born into the backwaters of a society marked by racial and class segregation.”

Lawrence Mead's Beyond Entitlement (1986): “unlike the poor of generations past, today's hard-core impoverished lack the skills, habits, and values that would enable them to become self-reliant. Therefore, they need substantial, morally authoritative intervention.

“It may be that WPA-style public jobs, which Wilson strongly advocates, could reverse the disintegration of the black family, drive crack cocaine from the ghettos, and transform the negative attitudes toward work and responsibility expressed by the young black men in Wilson's urban laboratory. But I suspect that more, much more, will be needed.”

“I suspect that even the most enlightened interventionist social policy will not be capable of changing the entrenched patterns of child rearing and social interaction by which personal incapacity-criminal violence, promiscuous sexuality, early unwed childbearing, academic failure are passed from one generation to the next. I suspect that the moral life of the urban poor will have to be transformed before the most marginalized souls will be able to seize such opportunities as may exist.”

a.      Perhaps responsible men whose lives are already well organized are able to keep faith with both their employers and their families.

b.      Perhaps people who place a high value on being self-supporting are not deterred from a couple hours' commute on a bus.

c.       Perhaps women who are energetic and disciplined can hold down jobs while sustaining the kinds of relationships with friends and relatives that make informal child care possible.

d.      The fact that most criminals are unemployed is not sufficient proof that unstable ghetto youths will prefer minimum-wage public employment to entry-level positions in the crack trade.

6.      Furthermore, the experience of Hispanics in America casts doubt on Wilson’s theories:

“Comparative data on the experience of poor, unskilled Mexican immigrants in Chicago [reveals that] neither the employment experience nor the familial attachments of Mexican immigrants are as weak as those of native-born black Americans. This contrast is not lost on employers, who report sharp differences in the reliability and trustworthiness of Mexican versus black labor. Wilson suggests that, because Mexican immigrants still bear the imprint of their rural, Catholic social origins, they are more likely than blacks to put up with grief on the job. But he predicts that, over time, the attitudes and behaviors of Mexicans will begin to resemble those of ghetto blacks. Maybe, maybe not.”

7.      Conclusion:

Wilson has failed to ask the hard questions.

a.      Exactly what interventions can counteract the impact on early-childhood cognitive development of bad parenting by ignorant and depressed teenage girls?

b.      How can urban neighborhoods be rescued from criminally violent adolescents while also affording some prospect that the youths in question can be helped to construct-not reconstruct-decent lives?

c.       What specific reforms are needed in the educational system before the underclass can become minimally competitive in the modern economy?

d.      Can the seductive power of gangs, and more generally of degenerative ghetto culture, be neutralized?

e.      Is there any way to fire the ambition of ghetto youths without resorting to the burnt-out ideologies of racial revolution or the pipe dreams of athletic or entertainment superstardom?

f.         Is it possible to replace these fantasies with a healthier, more realistic assessment of individual life chances in this free and prosperous nation, which remains the leading destination of indigent people from around the world?