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Books - Drugs, Crime and Social Isolation
Written by George E. Peterson   
This volume addresses a troubling theme: the isolation of the inner city in America and the impact of that isolation on the opportunities of inner-city residents.
The concept of isolation has multiple dimensions. There is literal, physical separation, such as the distancing of inner-city residents from the suburban locations where jobs are being created and the racial isolation imposed by segregated housing patterns. There is social isolation resulting from class homogeneity of contacts and, according to some authors, weak participation of inner-city residents in social organizations. There is the isolation imposed by high rates of crime and drug activity, as well as the habits of inner-city street life, where'acceptance of neighborhood behavioral norms can progressively cut off access to mainstream society.
These dimensions of isolation overlap with one another and profoundly affect opportunity patterns. Residential segregation implies segregated schooling, which, at least in urban America, means ineffective schooling. The chances that a child growing up in an inner-city neighborhood will become involved in crime and separated from society by being placed in jail are much greater than the chances that this will happen to a child living anywhere else. Incarceration has become one of society's most powerful signalling devices; even years later, the experience of having done jail time makes it far more difficult to find legitimate work. Whether inner-city isolation, except in the physical sense, is more than a metaphor for different life histories and unequal outcomes, however, is less clear. One purpose of the authors of this volume is to determine which dimensions of inner-city isolation are susceptible to empirical definition and testing, quantify these measures, and examine their consequences for lifetime opportunity.
There is irony in the concept of urban isolation. Historically, households have been attracted to cities because of the opportunities they afford for connection. Jobs traditionally were more concentrated and more abundant in the cities, and a wealth of workingmen's associations and, later, unions existed to support job mobility for workers. Social institutions—the product of what de Tocqueville called the American genius for civil association—flourished in the city, ranging from political clubs to parent-teacher associations and from self-help and cultural societies to immigrant associations. Nor were these organizations identified exclusively with the urban middle class. Following the Civil War, membership in the self-improvement, political, and social clubs, as well as churches of northern cities ran high among African-American workers and new immigrant groups.
Nonetheless, there long has been an alternative perception of life among the urban poor, which depicts the city's poverty areas as agglomerations of workers (or would-be workers) deprived of affiliation with the social and economic mainstream. The urban settlement-house movement of the early 20th century reflected this perspective. Its university founders believed that the "industrial classes" were so immersed in their daily labor that they lacked a sense of "citizenship" connecting them with the rest of the nation, or even with their working-class colleagues. To fill the void, the settlement reformers sought to create neighborhood centers that would serve as the hubs of a thick network of cultural, recreational, economic, and social institutions functioning amidst the slums In the East End of London, for example, Toynbee Hall offered to the poor an astonishing variety of clubs and courses, from classical languages to botany and German literature, but also supported a children's country holiday program that in 1888 sent 17,000 children to the countryside, provided space for union meetings, and offered both moral and logistical support for rent strikes and the collective bargaining efforts of match girls and dockworkers (Himmelfarb 1991). In the United States, settlement houses sprang up on almost as large a scale in all the major cities, dedicated to the proposition that the urban poor needed to be reconnected with the rest of urban society. As Robert Woods (1923), head of South End House in Boston, wrote in defining the settlement idea: it started from the premise that "The great city . . . shows by multiple effects the danger of having people cut off from the better life of society," (p. 2) and sought to reconstruct the city by recreating neighborhood communities, with the settlement house becoming a neutral ground for contact between the classes.
In recent years, the conviction has intensified that the urban population is pulling apart. In its 1968 report the Kerner Commission offered its now-famous conclusion that America's cities were on the course of becoming two nations—separate but unequal (U.S. National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders 1968). The basis of this division was racial segregation, but separation of the races within urban areas had led to, and was reinforced by, a two-tier system of law enforcement, schooling, and income-earning opportunities that eventually would produce different aspirations and civic values among the segregated groups. Since the time of the Kerner Commission report, the nation has made progress in dismantling the legal supports of segregation and in removing several of the specific obstacles that the commission emphasized, such as barriers to minority housing purchases in the suburbs or the practice of having overwhelmingly white police forces patrol overwhelmingly black neighborhoods. Yet, there is widespread belief that, in practical terms, the two urban nations the Kerner Commission warned of are more a reality today than they were in 1968. As Edward Gramlich, Deborah Laren, and Naomi Sealand (chapter 8, this volume) have described the prevailing perception, there is a pool of mostly minority "poor people [living] in poor areas . . . . trapped both in poverty and in their poor neighborhoods, . . suffer[ing] a lack of job opportunities, a lack of upper-class role models, excessive crime . . . . their children . . . condemned to substandard schooling." A special term—the underclass—has emerged to express this group's more or less permanent isolation from the urban mainstream.
This volume's authors explore several dimensions of the separation that has been hypothesized to isolate the inner city. Terms like isolation or underclass are freighted with many different connotations. Often they carry with them both an implicit diagnosis of what has produced the problem and an implied prescription as to the appropriate policy response. The result is a debate, heated at times, about solutions to the inequalities deriving from segmentation in urban areas. This debate is fueled by a lack of clarity, conceptually and empirically, about the relationship between nationwide and city-scale shifts in the opportunity structure, the adaptation to these shifts by people who organize their lives in response to opportunities as they see them, and the processes that link the two. Within the sociological community, the debate has crystallized between ecologically minded sociologists who emphasize the sorting and resorting of people and neighborhoods in response to economic restructuring or suburbanization and those who emphasize the specific policies, local institutions, and collective interests that lie behind reorganization of the city. (See Logan and Molotch, 1987; Gottdiener and Pickvance, 1991).
It therefore is important to endeavor to disentangle the empirical evidence in support of each part of the description of inner-city separation and to clarify along which dimensions urban neighborhoods are in fact becoming more differentiated. Where this differentiation appears in some cities but not in others, it is important to understand the local policies and local institutions, as well as market forces, that account for the different responses. Otherwise, analysis (and policy-making) can fall into generalizations about an isolated "underclass" whose exact features are left to each listener to fill in, according to his or her intuition and policy prejudice.
Physical isolation should be the least ambiguous index of separation. However, the recent record is not clear as to whether American cities are evolving in ways that reduce or exacerbate physical separation. By almost every measure, racial isolation in metropolitan areas declined in the 1980s. The proportion of blacks living in block groups in which at least 90 percent of the population is black, for example, fell in 36 of the 50 largest metropolitan areas. It rose in only 3, and was unchanged in 11 others. Alternative measures of racial segregation also fell (Farley 1992). However, the gains in integration in most urban areas were small, and racial isolation remains startlingly high in a number of large cities. In Chicago, St. Louis, Cleveland, and Detroit, for example, more than 60 percent of the African-Americans living anywhere in the entire metropolitan region live in block groups that are at least 90 percent black. Most of this concentration is found in the central city.
The concentration and separation of an "underclass" population can be viewed from the national perspective, by asking where the households defined as belonging to this class live. Although detailed data from the U.S. Bureau of the Census for 1990 are not yet available for analysis, earlier information reveals that by any of the usual definitions, poverty and "underclass" populations are highly concentrated in central cities. Moreover, at least in the largest cities the degree of concentration is rising. Half of the nation's poor lived in central cities in 1985 (Reischauer 1987), up from one-third in 1972. Although the total U.S. poverty population grew by only 8 percent between 1970 and 1980, the number of extreme poverty census tracts in central cities rose by two-thirds (Jargowsky and Bane 1990). Almost 70 percent of the residents of these extreme poverty tracts were black; another 20 percent were Hispanic. However, Jargowsky and Bane (1991) have pointed out that the picture of rapidly intensifying poverty concentration drawn from comparisons like these is somewhat deceptive. When smaller metropolitan areas, especially in the South, are included in the comparison, the aggregate increase in concentrated poverty is much reduced, because of the reduction and dispersion of poverty occurring in these places. In fact, the overwhelming majority of central-city poverty growth has occurred in just a few cities, principally New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Detroit.
Attempts to define and track underclass neighborhoods have reported greater concentration and more explosive growth. Mincy, Saw-hill, and Wolf (1990) defined underclass census tracts as those that exceed the national averages by at least one standard deviation in all four of the following characteristics: high rates of school dropout, joblessness, female-headed families, and welfare dependency. The underclass neighborhoods that result from this definition are found to be located mostly in the central cities of the Northeast and Midwest. Between 1970 and 1980, the total number of people living in such underclass areas rose by 230 percent. This has suggested to some that a fundamental sorting out of the urban population is under way that could indeed lead to long-term physical separation, if not of races or ethnic groups, then of "classes" with a strong racial overlap.
Perhaps most striking from a national perspective is the degree of concentration of distressed households in just a few cities. As John D. Kasarda (chapter 3, this volume) demonstrates, 44 percent of the distressed households in the 95 largest cities (according to a household definition of distress similar to the census tract definition of underclass employed above) live in New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Detroit alone—mostly in contiguous census tracts. Sixty-five percent of the severely distressed Hispanic households live in these same four cities. The size of the underclass ghettos means that most ghetto residents live surrounded by other neighborhoods of the same type. Their principal contact with the middle class may consist of uniformed, authority figures exercising control functions. From this perspective, the assertion that the United States has a de facto policy of relegating distressed, minority households to a few central city "reservations" may not seem so exaggerated. Why the experience of these four cities has been so distinctive, and what, in addition to size, sets them apart from the rest of the urban universe, remains a largely unanswered question. Is the isolation of inner-city Detroit principally the product of automobile companies that fled the city in the face of a racially changing workforce and plant environment, then failed to restructure to compete with foreign companies? Or would essentially the same outcomes have occurred, regardless of what the Big Three auto companies and the City of Detroit tried to do, because of deindustrialization forced on American companies by international competition?
Segregation indices measure where households of different types live in relation to one another. One can also measure physical separation in terms of where households live in relation to jobs. The extent and significance of the spatial mismatch between jobs that are being created in the suburbs and minority populations living in the central city are explored in another volume of this series (Peterson and Vroman 1992). However, some elements of the relationship help complete the picture of inner-city isolation. The differences in journey-to-work times for commutes within the city versus commutes from city to suburb, as examined by Kasarda for 1980 (chapter 3, this volume), are less than one might suspect. Black workers who cross-commuted spent two to six minutes more per trip than black workers who lived and worked in the central city. This amounts to an additional 4 percent to 20 percent in average travel time to get to suburban jobs, depending upon the metropolitan area. It is noteworthy that for commuting trips within the city, black workers have considerably greater travel-time differentials, suggesting that segregation of city residential neighborhoods, the distance between minority residential concentrations and job centers within the city, and the patterns of city transit routes may be as problematic for black households as the suburbanization of job creation.
In cases where the old industrial factories now being phased out were located immediately adjacent to low-income minority population neighborhoods, firms' moves to the suburbs can create far greater difficulties for minority workers. Fernandez (1991) reported that when a mid-sized manufacturing firm in Milwaukee recently moved to the suburbs, the black hourly workers in the labor force had to increase their commutes by an average of well over 100 percent, in both distance and time, to retain their jobs. Hispanic workers had to more than triple their commuting distances. However, it should be noted that the average commute for black workers prior to the move was far less than that for whites. Zax and Kain (1991) found that when a Detroit service-industry firm suburbanized, low-paid black workers tended to keep their central-city residences but to lengthen their commutes, whereas white workers at the same wage level were much more likely to quit their positions and take other jobs or move to housing closer to work. Black workers did not have the same options.
The evidence on physical isolation, then, is mixed. It seems to indicate that whereas overall racial segregation is declining—owing mostly to suburbanization of the middle-income black community—the geographical separation of distressed households from both middle-class neighborhoods and job centers is accelerating in the large metropolitan areas of the Northeast and Midwest, perhaps sharply. There is even evidence that distressed households are being separated from the governmental institutions intended to support them. Municipal budget cutbacks have brought, among other things, a recentralization of social services, which threatens to add "government" to the list of institutions no longer readily accessible in the inner city. Thus, at least for some urban residents, physical access to services, resources, and jobs is constrained and helps to limit the opportunity structure.
More important than physical distance in isolating the underclass is social distance, and more important than geographic location in setting apart a neighborhood is what might be called its behavioral norms. Contagion models (e.g., Crane 1991b; Montgomery 1991) hypothesize that socially deviant behaviors spread within neighborhoods by "infecting" healthy residents. The greater the number of disease carriers, the greater the probability that a healthy individual will be infected. To change metaphors, once a critical mass of a certain behavior has been reached (such as violent crime, welfare dependency, or drug use) the neighborhood is likely to "tip," so that such behavior becomes the local norm, accelerating its spread still further. These behavioral disparities themselves represent, at least in part, responses to the limited opportunities of advancement through conventional channels. Once in place, the local norms become powerful limitations on the choices seen as available or attractive to others.
Distressed neighborhoods are characterized by a number of deviant behaviors, but probably the most visible and most important involve drug use, drug selling, and violent crime. Spatial differentiation with respect to these behaviors has become acute in some cities, especially the largest cities where the other indices of inner-city separation are most pronounced. A study of 17 inner-city census tracts in Philadelphia tracked admissions to hospital emergency rooms for a year (Wishner et al. 1991). The researchers found that "interpersonal violence-related injuries" serious enough to warrant emergency room treatment occurred annually in more than 8.5 percent of the males 20-24 years of age (almost all of whom were African-American). Even allowing for repeat injuries, this would imply that as many as one-third of the males in the sample area could end up in a hospital emergency room with this type of injury at some point between ages 20 and 24, while many others could visit the emergency room more than once. In all of the age brackets between 15 and 39 years of age the annual rate of emergency room injuries resulting from personal violence exceeded 6 percent for males (Wishner et al. 1991). Studies in Ohio have found that children born out of wedlock in black households have a 9 to 15 times greater risk of childhood homicide than the population at large. The odds go up further if the mother is a high school dropout, lives in a metropolitan area, or is a teenager at the time of birth (Winpisinger et al. 1991). This study did not examine the additional effects of inner-city residence, though the risks are known to be much higher in these neighborhoods.
Overlapping with patterns of crime has been the pattern of use and sale of illicit drugs. Since the 1970s, drug use has been more prealent in large metropolitan areas than in small cities or rural areas—a relationship that has persisted across rising and falling trends in drug popularity (Miller et al. 1983; National Institute on Drug Abuse 1991a). Now in its third decade, the drug crisis has moved from marijuana smoking and cocaine snorting by young people in college and by professionals to the smoking of highly addictive crack cocaine among the poor. In 1982, past-month cocaine use was twice as common among whites as among blacks and other races (7 percent compared to 3 percent). By 1990, past cocaine use had dropped dramatically among whites (to 1.9 percent), but not among blacks and Hispanics. Indeed, drug historian David Musto (1988) warned of the emergence of a two-tiered drug culture in which inner-city ghetto use of the most addictive drugs sustains itself, while middle-class suburban use declines. There is, however, considerable evidence that in the last two years (1989-91) crack use among inner-city youth also has begun to decline. Eventually, this should translate into lower total usage, but in the meantime it has led to perverse situations in which inner-city youths make their living by selling crack to their elders.
The association between criminal activity and drug use is especially evident in cities suffering from high poverty concentrations. In 1990, over 60 percent of female arrestees tested positive for cocaine at police booking in Manhattan, Detroit, and Philadelphia, whereas over half of male arrestees tested cocaine positive in Manhattan, Philadelphia, and Chicago (National Institute of Justice 1991). Among children being held in New York State's youth detention system, cocaine use reached 26 percent, or a rate four and a half times that among children of the same age in school (New York State 1991).1
One of the important unanswered questions about underclass concentration has been whether neighborhood differentiation with respect to violent crime and drug use is increasing (Jencks 1991). At least within older cities, the answer seems to be that it is. Many poverty areas have in effect become "zoned" for risky behavior, leading to vast differences in the frequency of occurrence. In Washington, D.C., for example, arrests for drug use or possession in 1980 already were 6 times higher per capita in extreme poverty neighborhoods (those with more than 40 percent of residents below the poverty line) than in nonpoverty neighborhoods. However, between 1980 and 1988 the increase in drug arrest rates was 8 times greater in the extreme poverty census tracts. Violent crime rates started the decade more than 3 times higher in extreme poverty neighborhoods; the increase between 1980 and 1988 was almost 5 times greater. In Cleveland, drug arrest rates that started out 6 times higher in the extreme poverty tracts showed an increase that was 22 times larger between 1980 and 1988 (Wiener and Mincy 1991). Although police enforcement policies, especially toward drug use, may explain part of the extraordinary differences in neighborhood arrest rates, there seems little doubt that the underlying behaviors also have become more differentiated. In this respect, violent crimes and drug use differ from other behaviors sometimes ascribed to the "underclass." Wiener and Mincy found no overall neighborhood pattern to changes in teenage birth rates, for example, while robbery and burglary rates grew much faster in non-poverty areas, as criminals apparently shifted their operations to neighborhoods where there was more to be stolen. This study also found that violent crime and drug arrest rates were more strongly linked to neighborhood poverty than to the combination of demographic and institutional proxies that have been used to define underclass neighborhoods (such as high rates of single-parent families or welfare dependency).
Together with ethnographic and statistical evidence on the effects of criminal activity and cocaine use on lifetime opportunity, the evidence of intensifying stratification of urban neighborhoods by extent of socially deviant behavior suggests that more attention should be paid to these behaviors in defining functionally distressed neighborhoods. Drug use, drug selling, and violent crime are all behaviors with strong externalities that curtail others' ability to use a neighborhood. Moreover, Freeman (1992) shows how strongly a record of youthful criminal incarceration hampers long-term ability to earn income from legitimate work. Several chapters in this volume also provide ethnographic accounts of how drastically involvement in the inner-city drug world limits future opportunities.
In William Julius Wilson's and Loic Wacquant's analysis of the underclass (Wilson 1987; Wacquant and Wilson 1989), the ultimate isolation of the inner city is its social isolation—that is, "the lack of contact or of sustained interaction with the individuals or institutions that represent mainstream society." Some of this isolation may result from physical separation or from levels of crime and drug use that drive out the institutions and people that normally would provide sources of interclass contact. But the concept of social isolation asserts furthermore that the lack of middle- or upper-class presence is crucial to neighborhood separation, and that inhabitants of underclass areas are unable to compensate in other parts of their lives for the estrangement that marks their residential neighborhoods.
Eloise Dunlap and Ansley Hamid, in chapters 6 and 7 of this volume, respectively, examine different aspects of social isolation, and in the process also consider how norms of drug use and crime are transmitted. Dunlap portrays inner-city families so wracked by drugs that they are unable to model any conventional values for their children or provide them with even the minimal connections to a stable outside world. In such families, the extended family provides its own, substitute universe filled with drug consumption and criminal activity, while interposing itself between individual family members and mainstream institutions. Hamid's account, which illustrates the effects of crack on middle-aged, formerly middle-class black males, emphasizes the precariousness of inner-city life. Even seemingly secure jobs and good incomes are not enough to protect the men in his account from the pressures of the street. Their descent into the all-consuming world of cocaine dependence deprives the young people in the community, especially young males, of the contacts they need to help connect them to the world of conventional labor, thus compounding their own isolation with community isolation.
Roberto M. Fernandez and David Harris (chapter 9, this volume) construct a more formal test of Wilson's hypotheses of social isolation, using Wilson's sample of inner-city Chicago households. Along some dimensions, they find alarming extremes of isolation from the "mainstream," especially among nonworking poor women. For example, 17.6 percent of these women report having no friends that they could turn to in an emergency. For those who do report having friends, 44.7 percent of the friends are on public aid and outside the labor force, indicating a tendency toward a closed community. The nonworking poor as a group are significantly less likely to regularly attend meetings of a wide variety of community, school, social, and church organizations. By and large, however, Wilson's hypothesis that living in poor neighborhoods substantially exacerbates the isolation of individually poor households is not borne out in this sample. Neighborhood effects on social participation, as measured by the influence of the poverty and employment status of neighbors living in the same census tract, were for the most part small, much smaller than the effects of the household's own poverty and employment status. Ironically, some of the strongest neighborhood effects are found among nonpoor "mainstream" households living in poor areas, who go to considerable lengths to isolate themselves socially from their neighbors. This result would seem to weaken Wilson's argument that finding ways to retain a middle-class presence in underclass neighborhoods will by itself enhance social contacts. Some of the behavioral norms in extreme poverty neighborhoods are likely to appear as threatening to nonpoverty residents as they do to nonpoverty outsiders, with the consequence that mainstream households try to insulate themselves from neighborhood contact rather than serve as neighborhood resources. Fernandez's and Harris's findings, limited to a single city, a relatively small sample, and a limited range of neighborhood influences on the individual, nonetheless highlight the dangers of referring loosely to neighborhood effects. It is clear that there is considerable heterogeneity across gender and income lines with respect to social connections within neighborhoods, and it is likely that the particular way that mediating institutions are organized has additional significance for household contacts.
In his monumental study of poverty in London—arguably the first substantial product of "social science"—Charles Booth (1892) contended that the condition of the poor could be properly understood only through a combination of statistics and observation of individual lives. Individual observation was necessary, he said, to give specificity to studies and to capture the balance of influences on households as they appeared on the ground. Statistics, for their part, were necessary to preserve a sense of proportion, to avoid the fallacy of rushing to generalizations or policy conclusions from individual vignettes, however affecting. Booth and his colleagues lived and worked among the poor, recording their observations. They also canvassed, household by household, the entire population of the East End, producing a statistical picture of poverty and its gradations that was unique in its time.
This volume attempts to capture a similar mix of observation of individual lives—now called urban ethnography—and statistics, some drawn from original surveys conducted in specific cities, others from national data sources. We also endeavor to widen the historical lens a bit. Much of today's sense of loss of urban opportunity stems from the contrast, explicit or implicit, with the period beginning with World War II, when abundant industrial jobs were open to all. It is often forgotten how exceptional this era was in the longer-term development of American cities.
Roger Lane, in chapter 2, provides a historical backdrop for today's underclass debate. He examines the life of African-Americans in Philadelphia during the generation after the Civil War and contrasts it with recent black experience. The black middle class flowered during the earlier period, making vast strides in education and literacy, while opening up public employment to the point that by 1891 the proportion of African-Americans in Philadelphia's police force paralleled that in the city's total population. (This achievement had long since been lost when the Kerner Commission calculated the racial composition of city police forces in 1968.) The majority black population, though very poor, had almost none of the signs we have come to associate with an underclass. There was far less social and geographical separation than today. A rich network of clubs and associations linked black households together and to mainstream aspirations. Rates of violent crime, alcohol and drug use, and out-of-wedlock births were much more in line with the experience of the rest of the city population and, in some instances, were lower. Most fundamentally, Lane emphasizes, the black community aggressively embraced mainstream values, and pursued with great energy its efforts to move up the ladder of opportunity.
These efforts failed, not because of black indifference, but because of white racism that excluded African-Americans from jobs in the new industrial economy. Starting from a point of rough equality with immigrants in terms of labor skills after the Civil War, by 1900 fully 76 percent of African-Americans in Philadelphia were listed in the Census survey as either unskilled laborers or domestic and personal service workers, compared with just 28 percent of white immigrants and 12 percent of whites of native parentage. Only 8 percent of black workers held jobs in manufacturing, compared with 47 percent of white immigrants. Employers and unions were equally resolute in rejecting black industrial labor.
The origins of today's urban underclass are directly linked, in Lane's view, to this exclusion of African-Americans from what was then the modern economy, and to the inability of black households to reap the rewards of their investment in education. The black community steadily lost ground, relative to the rest of the urban population, in labor skills and social conditions. At all levels of black society, the conviction eroded that education and adherence to middle-class values would open up opportunity for advancement.
The pattern of relative decline was broken by World War II and the labor shortages it created. During the 1940s and 1950s factory jobs finally became available to blacks in great numbers. But, as Lane points out, black workers were being "piped aboard a sinking ship." The black share of industrial employment reached its zenith just as the long decline of America's industrial cities was about to begin. In the economic restructuring that followed, blacks again were excluded from the growth sector for good jobs, this time in the high-skill service economy. To look back at the 1940s to 1960s as a normative reference point for black involvement in the urban economy is to overlook the fact that this "golden age" was really the twilight of big-city manufacturing, and that when the industrial sector was the leading edge of the modern economy, blacks had almost no access to it.
John D. Kasarda, in chapter 3, examines the more recent period of cities' economic transformation and the impact this has had upon severely distressed urban households. In a departure from analyses that focus on neighborhood indicators, he first examines the location and growth of distressed households, defined as those combining less than high school education, single parenthood, poor work history, public assistance recipiency, and poverty. Such households are overwhelmingly located in the central areas of five metropolitan regions: New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, and, to a lesser degree, Los Angeles. The first four cities are quintessential examples of the deindustrialization that has led to the loss of manufacturing jobs. Altogether between 1970 and 1987, these cities lost more than $17.0 billion (1980 dollars) in annual manufacturing earnings in their central counties.
Kasarda then considers the skill and spatial mismatches that have accompanied economic transformation. He argues that the average skill content of jobs has risen, and that as the overall metropolitan labor force has increased its educational level, those without modern skills and schooling have fallen farther back in the queue of employables. In New York City the number of jobs held by high school dropouts fell by 496,000 between 1970 and 1980, whereas the number of jobs held by college graduates increased by 307,000. Although the education level of the city workforce was also rising, it did not keep pace with the transformation of the job market. As a result, large numbers of city residents lost out in the job competition. The gap in employment rates between those with and without schooling widened.
A similar phenomenon occurred in other northern, industrial cities. In Detroit, in 1980 56.1 percent of black male residents with less than high school education were not working, compared to only 1.3 percent of black male college graduates. In Philadelphia, the same comparison showed a not-working rate of 60.1 percent for black high-school dropouts versus a 1.9 percent not-working rate for black college graduates.
With respect to the spatial mismatch, Kasarda demonstrates that suburban unemployment rates for blacks are substantially lower than central-city unemployment rates for those with comparable schooling. Moreover, the unemployment gap between the central city and the suburbs is greatest at the low end of the skill distribution, where it has risen steeply over time. These outcomes are consistent with the hypothesis that in the competition for formal-sector jobs, inner-city, minority workers without college preparation are disadvantaged by their residential location as well as by their skill levels.
Jeffrey Fagan (chapter 4) focuses his analysis on the functioning of the most significant illegal economic activity in the inner city, drug selling. He draws on interviews with more than 1,000 drug users and sellers in two New York City neighborhoods, Central Harlem and Washington Heights, to derive a picture of the social and economic organization of the drug market. Striking differences between the two neighborhoods were found. Central Harlem is the more isolated area, located at the center of a large black ghetto. There, the "crack" boom did not divert many residents from legitimate jobs to drug selling. Rather, most of the participants in the cocaine market had a long history of drug involvement and other criminal activity, and realistically saw very limited employment prospects in the formal economy. From their perspective, the alternatives to drug selling are public transfers or a haphazard collection of low-paying occasional jobs. Nor does the prospect of jail time serve as much of a deterrent; indeed for many youths jail tends to be viewed as a rite of passage. Against this background, the independent, entrepeneurial occupation of drug dealing has obvious appeal, both for income and prestige. Fagan shows that drug dealing substantially enhances dealers' net incomes (i.e., income from drug selling is not significantly offset by lost earnings from formal-sector work or public assistance).
Washington Heights is a neighborhood that, by most measures, is less distressed than Central Harlem. It is less isolated, with easy access by road and bridge to the "outside world." It has somewhat higher income levels, lower poverty rates, and greater racial diversity. Nonetheless, Washington Heights has been affected more by drug selling, has a more organized and violent drug market, and has higher overall levels of violent crime. Fagan attributes these differences to several factors. The ease of access creates a drive-in market for more affluent, white drug buyers who inject money into the local economy, stimulating supplier competition. The result is a higher level of drug income in Washington Heights, and more tightly organized distribution systems. It is the conflict between drug groups that triggers much of the underlying neighborhood violence.
There is also clearer evidence in Washington Heights of a trade-off between legitimate income and income from drug selling. Residents there have more job alternatives. At the same time, drug selling is a more organized and demanding occupation, requiring greater commitment to one's career choice and entailing greater risks of violence. Despite a clearer trade-off with legitimate work (as well as other forms of crime), the net economic gains from drug selling are considerably higher in Washington Heights. In effect, the greater human capital in Washington Heights, as well as the area's superior connections to middle-class buyers and international suppliers, combine to produce higher drug incomes but also higher risks of violence. Fagan notes that the neighborhood's commitment to illegal entrepreneurism is likely to survive a decline in crack demand, such as appears to have been under way since 1989. So long as well-paying formal-sector jobs are available only to those with skills and schooling, many Washington Heights residents will merely shift their efforts to other illegal markets where the same organizational energy and tolerance for risk can earn high returns.
In chapter 5, Elijah Anderson's ethnographic account of John Turner illustrates the social and economic choices at stake for young men entering their adult years with few job prospects, an early criminal record, and an understandable desire to maintain social standing with their peers. John Turner exemplifies in many respects a moderately motivated youth at the edge of the underclass. Despite receiving extensive personal assistance in dealing with his legal problems and in finding a job, John in the end drops those opportunities in favor of the faster money and riskier life of drug dealing. The reasons are complex—ranging from the rejection of his lifestyle by older black male co-workers to John's intuitive opposition to the rules of conventional society—and do not fit simple stereotypes of street youth without concern for family or future. Despite strains of idealism and ambition, John seems tied to the street even when offered a change. The account raises troubling questions about what types of intervention can reach youths like John Turner, who are unwilling or unable to take advantage of the mainstream opportunities offered them. Anderson concludes that intervention must come at a very early age before the oppositional culture has taken hold.
[The] experience with John suggests that simply providing opportunities for members of the underclass is not enough; they must also be provided with an outlook that allows them to invest personal resources in those opportunities, thereby leaving behind the attitudes and behavior that block their advancement but that also give them security in their circumscribed world.
Eloise Dunlap (chapter 6) provides an ethnographic study of families—mothers and children—that live within the social and personal disorganization of drug dependence. Ironically, the very institution that provides the most support for households under stress—the African-American extended family—also serves as a vehicle for transmitting the drug culture. In the world Dunlap portrays, there is no stability. Relatives, friends, customers, and lovers appear and disappear in the home, along with possessions that are bartered or stolen and then vanish. One of Dunlap's subjects reports that, at one time or another, she has been the primary caregiver for 82 children—precisely because she is the least unstable member of the extended family and assumes responsibility for offspring when other family members are jailed, killed, or disappear. Amidst the tumult of adults and youths, and the regular incursion of street life into the home, children are introduced to drugs and violence at an exceptionally early age, while given multiple tryouts by siblings or relatives for criminal roles they can play.
Ansley Hamid (chapter 7) complements this sense of precariousness by presenting an ethnographic study of middle-aged males now living (or spending nights) in "freakhouses." The men in Hamid's study once held middle-class jobs, but lost them because of crack consumption. In case after case, Hamid documents the economic loss and degradation that decimated the ranks of adult black males, the "old heads" whose connections with the world of work were supposed to be models for today's youth. The process illustrates the other side of the ladder of opportunity, the downward mobility that can hurtle onetime solid wage earners onto the street. Even adult males established in the work force are constantly at risk, so long as they live in neighborhoods and frequent social settings where drugs are continually available and where they must come to terms with the "street" every day. Middle-class lives may unravel at any time—a fact that Anderson and others argue induces middle-class agents, like black probation officers and school teachers, to protectively distance themselves from the at-risk youths they should be influencing. Hamid concludes that the impact of crack on the inner city will be felt for a long time, even if youths turn away from its use, as now appears to be happening. The missing generation of older role models cannot be replaced. In many ways the middle-aged males living in freakhouses are more profoundly lost to today's adolescents than those who have migrated to the suburbs.
Probably the greatest obstacle to a better understanding of underclass dynamics has been the lack of longitudinal tracking of households. Underclass neighborhoods appear in a different light if they are constantly shifting collections of different households, from which individual families regularly escape via outmigration, than if they are the permanent homes of households trapped in the poorest sections of the inner city. The term underclass in fact implies a permanence of position that is even passed on from one generation to the next. Unfortunately, almost all that we know about the underclass comes from periodic snapshots of neighborhood areas, supplemented by interviewing of current residents. There have been no longitudinal studies of how households move into and out of underclass zones, or of what becomes of them when they leave. Edward Gramlich, Deborah Laren, and Naomi Sealand (chapter 8) take advantage of the recent addition of spatial identifiers to the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSIDUniversity of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Institute for Social Research) to begin to fill this void by analyzing individual households' mobility into and out of poverty census tracts. They find that there is a large amount of movement among the poor, much of it from poverty zones to nonpoverty areas. For example, each year 27 percent of the poor white adults in families with children who live in urban poverty areas leave and move into nonpoverty areas. This remarkably high rate of emigration argues against the notion of permanent entrapment.
Gramlich and his coauthors show, however, that emigration rates from poverty areas are much lower for poor black households (10 percent per year). The probability of poor black households moving into urban poverty tracts from other locations, in contrast, is much higher. This process leads to a significant degree of sorting out. Urban poverty areas become poorer and more racially homogeneous over time, and the persistently poor become more likely to reside in them. The geographic isolation appears to have significant consequences. In this sample, the poor black households who move out of poverty zones enjoy greater subsequent income growth than the poor households who stay, whereas the poor black households who move into poverty areas experience less income growth than the poor households who remain in nonpoor areas. Most disturbing of all, the startling divergence by race of where children live becomes worse. Already, fewer than 1 percent of white children grow up in poor urban areas, and this share is falling rapidly. By contrast, 26 percent of black children live in urban poverty areas. Given households' current mobility patterns (and correcting for multiple movers), this share will keep rising until it reaches 32-35 percent. Given the evidence we have of inferior school quality in urban poverty zones (Orfield 1992), as well as the unequal rates of violent crime and drug activity, the sorting-out process appears to relegate black children to environments that markedly limit their lifetime opportunities.
In the final chapter, Roberto Fernandez and David Harris investigate William Julius Wilson's hypothesis of social isolation, drawing upon a household sample of friendship patterns and institutional affiliations for Chicago's poverty areas. They conclude that nonworking poor black men and women are consistently less likely to participate in local organizations than either the working poor or the nonpoor, and thus are cut off from institutional support for interclass contact. Most of this effect seems to be a consequence of the household's own class status, however, rather than of the type of neighborhood in which it resides. With respect to personal networks, the household responses indicate that both nonworking poor men and women tend to have friends of their own class—i.e., with fewer years of schooling and higher rates of nonemployment than the friends of those who are not poor. For women, but not for men, neighborhood poverty strongly reinforces personal isolation, further reducing the breadth and depth of personal networks. Overall, isolation from mainstream activities is more acute for poor women than for poor men, and more dependent upon the neighborhood environment. Thus, there is support in this sample for at least part of the isolation hypothesis. However, the role of neighborhood deprivation in intensifying isolation appears to be relatively small. If so, the authors conclude, it may be more effective to help poor people directly, regardless of where they live, than to try to reach the individual through collective neighborhood change.
For at least the last 150 years observers of poverty have attempted to classify the poor into different groups. One motivation has been to do justice to the manifest differences among those once lumped together under the heading, "lower classes." A parallel motivation, however, has been to guide public policy, so that remedial programs could be better targeted. For much of the 19th century the basic distinction drawn was that between the "deserving" poor and the undeservingi.e., between those who were poor because of sloth or moral vice, toward whom society had no obligations beyond the poorhouse, and those who embraced the work ethic but were poor nonetheless. This latter group had a morally valid claim on society's succor, at least in finding work. The concept of the deserving poor has been resurrected in the last few years by public commentators and legislators, to try once again to focus public resources on those among the poor who are willing to work.
Charles Booth, in his Life and Labour of the People in London, introduced eight social classifications. The first two groups, A and B, correspond quite closely to what today is termed the underclass. Class A included "the lowest class of occasional labourers, loafers, and semi-criminals"; Class B, the "very poor . . . , dependent upon casual earnings." Except for its prose style, Booth's description of the members of Class B might be mistaken today for a contemporary ethnographic description, like Elijah Anderson's in this volume, of inner-city youth on the fringes of the formal sector: "They cannot stand the regularity and dulness of civilised existence, and find the excitement they need in the life of the streets . . . ." (See Himmelfarb, 1991: 107110.) Above these groups Booth placed two classes of the working poor who rely, respectively, upon intermittent or small but regular earnings. Booth himself drew from these distinctions the policy conclusion that because the lowest classes, the extreme poor, exerted labor market pressure on the working poor, without committing themselves to the working life, society had to find a way to meet their basic needs while removing them from the free labor market. He suggested government-sponsored industrial farms. Even Booth's contemporaries did not take this particular recommendation very seriously, but it does call attention, as Booth desired, to the interaction among different segments of the poor or underclass population. Some youth and adults want to work but cannot find jobs. Others choose not to hold legitimate, low-paying jobs, because they find the alternatives of criminal or welfare income more attractive. Much of the recent poverty debate has been conducted on an ideological plane as if one, but not both, of these explanations must account for observed detachment from the labor force. In fact, both play a role. The practical question is how large the respective influences are, and, in cases where individuals have a reservation wage based on income alternatives from welfare or crime, how high this reservation wage is and what society can do to promote work as a legitimate option. More recent observers have emphasized other distinctions between the poorer sectors: between those who have temporary spells of poverty and the persistently poor, or between those who maintain ambitions of advancement and those who fall into a culture of poverty. The public policies advocated for assisting each class are quite different.
Discussions of the underclass likewise both introduce analytical distinctions and carry implications for policy targeting. At the broadest policy level, the underclass debate is consistent with a three-pronged approach to inner-city poverty. Some of the residents of inner-city ghettos possess labor skills but not jobs. For this group, targeted policies like transportation initiatives designed to convey workers to points of job creation (Hughes 1992) or downtown redevelopment efforts to create jobs are appropriate. A second group of residents want to work but lack job skills. For them, the policy priority is job and skill training. Some of this task may be accomplished through specialized training programs, but the most urgent priority is to provide better education in the inner city. For those who espouse oppositional cultural values or simply do not have the aspirations and expectations that would lead to labor market attachment, other policies may be required. These may be immediate and remedial, such as overhaul of the welfare system to reward work or alternative incarceration and probation programs designed to match youth offenders with work skills, discipline, and jobs, as well as long-term and preventive.
Some discussions—such as that by Dunlap in chapter 6, this volume—focus on the family or the extended family as the vector that transmits dysfunctional behavior to young children. This approach implies the need for very early intervention in children's lives, through such vehicles as Head Start, joint treatment of all family members for drug abuse, and mentoring programs that provide male role models for young boys. For some residents or in some areas, neighborhoods may, however, play a more crucial role, providing a social environment that is hostile to mainstream values and opportunities. In these cases, strategies to diversify youths' experience, so that they can choose their own role models, become critical.
The underclass analysis advanced by William Julius Wilson (1987) is distinguished by the importance it places upon the neighborhood in mediating individual experience. In his view, it is the neighborhood that "isolates" or "connects" the individual to mainstream opportunity. Other classes of society may have moved away from the literal, geographical neighborhood in their social orientation, in favor of a metaphorical neighborhood held together by job or professional networks and personal connections spread over the metropolitan area; but, lacking this variety of connections, the underclass is argued to be more dependent upon their immediate residential surroundings. Taken together, the chapters in this volume offer support for such a perspective, even though they also remind us that what may seem to be "neighborhood" effects, in the sense of neighborhood as a factor influencing the individual, are sometimes confounded with aggregation effects. A neighborhood may have some distinctive characteristics merely because it is an aggregation of poor or nonworking households, each of which would act similarly if placed in another environment.
So long as neighborhoods are a critical variable, the next logical question to ask, for both analysis and policy formulation, is How do neighborhoods exert their influence? The existing literature, though sometimes disappointingly imprecise on this point, emphasizes two broad, alternative lines of influence.
According to one interpretation, it is who lives in a neighborhood that matters. The social (and racial and income) homogeneity of underclass neighborhoods is viewed as their most confining characteristic. The absence of middle-class families is particularly crucial. In Wilson's writings, migration out of the ghetto by successful or aspiring black families is one of the main vehicles serving to intensify social stratification—even though the evidence that black outmigration by socioeconomic class is more selective than formerly is not very strong (Jencks 1991). Other mechanisms of city stratification are possible, such as de facto social zoning by governments, downward mobility among the middle-class households who remain in the ghetto, and higher rates of movement of minority poor into central-city poverty zones. Empirical support is beginning to accumulate for the view that physical isolation from the middle class is important. Crane (1991a, b), for example, reported that the presence of professional households in a neighborhood is an important factor in retarding the spread of teenage childbearing and high school dropouts among the poor. Although the mechanism of influence is not spelled out, presumably it involves embodiment within the community, including the schools, of mainstream norms that serve as a counterweight to acceptance of other behaviors. The statistical association between amelioration of unwanted effects and middle-class pr9sence in neighborhoods must remain less than fully convincing, however, until the agency for transmitting and sustaining mainstream norms in this context can be better described.'
Taken at face value, this view of underclass isolation argues for diffusing poverty by placing poor families in middle-class communities, where they can come into contact with middle-class neighbors and institutions, or taking steps to reintroduce income and class diversity into the inner city through neighborhood redevelopment projects. Some of the policy experiments premised on this view of inner-city isolation do, in fact, show considerable promise—most notably, the Gautreaux experiment, in which black residents of Chicago's public housing projects have (under court order) been placed in the suburbs. The moves appear to have had a favorable impact on children's school achievements, adult earnings, and family aspirations (Rosenbaum 1991; Rosenbaum and Popkin 1990). Despite the promise of the Gautreaux experiment, however, it only partially supports the view that the class composition of neighborhoods is critical in spreading or retarding underclass behavior. The poverty families participating in the program tend to attribute their improved circumstances to the fact that there are better schools, more jobs, and less violence in the suburbs. These characteristics, of course, tend to be found in neighborhoods where middle-class and professional families live, but there are other, more direct ways of producing them.
A second line of argument emphasizes violent or disruptive behavior as the principal source of underclass neighborhood influence. Several chapters in this volume illustrate just how severely neighborhoods are set apart by their levels of violent crime and drug activity. Given such an environment, mothers frequently report that they are unwilling to accept the risks of working outside the home, either because it is dangerous to travel to and from work or out of fear of leaving their children alone. Several members of the Gautreaux sample who took jobs for the first time after moving to the suburbs reported that they previously had seen no point in working because it only made them more conspicuous targets for robbery or theft. Indeed, when residents of underclass neighborhoods are asked what they personally find most objectionable about their environment, they tend to place behavioral factors at the top of their list by a wide margin. An overwhelming 74.7 percent of a sample of residents of Atlanta's public housing projects listed drug use as the "most serious" problem in their area, followed by crime and violence. By contrast, only 2.3 percent listed housing conditions as their worst problem, and only 0.4 percent listed lack of jobs (City of Atlanta 1989). More than 80 percent of respondents indicated that they stayed inside at night as a matter of self-protection.
From this description and diagnosis of the underclass neighborhood problem, there has been deduced a quite different set of policy priorities. It becomes urgent to keep neighborhood disruptive behavior under control to the extent necessary to allow individuals to lead productive lives. New policing measures, such as community policing or attempts to establish neighborhood gun-free zones, community campaigns against drug dealing, and efforts to socialize or control youth gangs are examples of initiatives designed to counteract the street's control over a neighborhood, though systematic evidence of their success has yet to be assembled. Some of the most promising initiatives now being experimented with seek to create neighborhood institutions that give residents collectively a sense of control over their environment and empowerment in dealing with city agencies. For example, the Sandtown-Winchester community of inner-city Baltimore has received foundation support to go through a "visioning" process of how residents would like their neighborhood to change, and has been given discretion over refocusing and combining the local application of city government programs, from police protection to housing rehabilitation and health clinics, to help realize their vision.
Obviously, these different policies for dealing with inner-city neighborhoods are not incompatible with one another. All require a more reliable supply of job opportunities before they can become effective. However, in a time of acute budget constraints, there is bound to be competition for program funding at all levels of government. Analyses of how inner-city areas curtail the opportunities of individual households residing in them; assessments of how important these neighborhood influences are relative to other factors limiting individual development; and clarification of the extent to which the experience of New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Los Angeles has relevance for other cities will be critical in establishing the future antipoverty policy agenda.
1. Whether drug involvement leads to (or independently predicts) a higher probability of criminal involvement is unclear. It may be that those headed toward crime also engage in drug activity, and that, after adequate control for family, neighborhood and other influences, drug involvement adds little to the probability of criminal involvement. (See Goldkamp 1990). Even if this is true, the association between drugs and crime has changed neighborhood environments and added to the rewards of criminal behavior, as Fagan points out in chapter 4 of this volume
2. As an example of how neighborhood agency can be spelled out, see Sullivan's (1989) contrast of the crime careers of youth in three different neighborhoods in New York City..
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