Why the Poor Stay Poor


Publish Date:
March 8, 2009
Publication Title:
New York Times, March 8, 2009, pg. BR8
Book Review
  • Richard Thompson Ford, Why the Poor Stay Poor (Book review: More Than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner City, by William Julius Wilson), New York Times, March 8, 2009, pg. BR8.



Conservatives reject the idea of structural and institutional racism as an intellectual’s way of playing the race card. Liberals attack any emphasis on the dysfunctional culture of the poor as “blaming the victim.”

In “More Than Just Race,” the Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson recaps his own important research over the past 20 years as well as some of the best urban sociology of his peers to make a convincing case that both institutional and systemic impediments and cultural deficiencies keep poor blacks from escaping poverty and the ghetto.

The systemic impediments include both the legacy of racism and dramatic economic changes that have fallen with disproportionate severity on poor blacks. State-enforced racial discrimination created the ghetto: in the early 20th century local governments separated the races into segregated neighborhoods by force of law, and later, whites used private agreements and violent intimidation to keep blacks out of white neighborhoods. Worst, and most surprising of all, the federal government played a major role in encouraging the racism of private actors and state governments. Until the 1960s, federal housing agencies engaged in racial red­lining, refusing to guarantee mortgages in inner-city neighborhoods; private lenders quickly followed suit.