America's inner-city blacks are being held hostage by the social structure they live in - not by the fact they are black, says William Julius Wilson, a professor of sociology from the University of Chicago.
Rapid social deterioration of inner-city neighborhoods "is one of the most serious domestic problems in the late 20th century," he said at an executive forum sponsored this week by Brigham Young University.To break the poverty cycle, Wilson suggests race-neutral programs that include moving employment centers closer to inner-city black neighborhoods, and providing subsidized transportation for blacks that need to travel long distances to work.
Programs such as affirmative-action are geared to assist higher- and middle-class blacks without helping blacks trapped in inner-city neighborhoods.
"Even the most pessimistic observers of urban life in America during the ghetto riots of the 1960s hardly anticipated the dramatic increases in rates of social dislocation and the massive breakdown of social institutions in the ensuing years," Wilson said.
As urban areas de-industrialized in the early 1980s, and manufacturers moved factories into non-union, cheap labor areas, inner-city blacks were forced to search farther and farther from home for work.
In one incident, Wilson told of a man who quit his job in the suburbs because he spent more money on transportation than he earned working.
Another problem is the cost of finding work. There is little motivation in spending a lot of money, just to travel someplace with no hope of getting a job, Wilson said.
Employer attitudes are very negative about employing inner-city workers, Wilson said.
"Many of those who viewed blacks in a negative light thought that they possessed few of the qualities of a `good' worker, that `they don't want to work, don't stay on the job,' have an `attitude problem,' or are `lazy and unreliable,' " Wilson said.
It is the system, not the question of race, that created the vicious circle of social isolation. Without informal networks, inner-city blacks can't find jobs. The destitute conditions of high poverty neighborhoods makes it impossible to move where jobs exist.
"Indeed, despite the Great Society programs ushered in by the Lyndon Baines Johnson administration and despite the sweeping anti-discrimiation legislation and affirmative-action . . . (the situation) has resulted in sharp increases in inner-city joblessness and related problems," Wilson said.
To correct the situation, Wilson suggests a close look at declining labor market opportunities and a look at inner-city social organization.
"The declining social organization of inner-city neighborhoods . . . has continued to reinforce the economic marginality of (inner-city) residents, especially the youngsters," Wilson said.