Photo of William Julius Wilson

William Julius Wilson

  • National Medal of Science
  • Behavioral And Social Science

For his innovative approach to studying urban poverty, his dedication to the proposition that rigorous social science change will improve his fellow American’s lives, and his advocacy of policies which reflect more accurately what we have learned from research and which therefore take a broader point of view with respect to the interactions of race, class, and location.

William Julius Wilson is considered the top authority on the correlation between race and poverty. His first book, The Declining Significance of Race (1973), contended there were fewer limits towards success for middle-class blacks, whereas poor African Americans encountered more roadblocks. This book sparked controversy, as many of his critics believed its views permitted ultra-conservatives to blame the poor for their own poverty.

To distance himself from the conservative mindset, Wilson wrote When Work Disappears in 1996. Wilson stated that many middle-working-class African Americans moved out of poor neighborhoods, taking with them their culture. For those stuck in the ghettos, this meant that the lack of work and its consequences for their social and culture became main issues.

Wilson’s influence has reached beyond academia into public policy. He served as a consultant to Chicago mayor, Richard M. Daley, and spoke out against Bill Clinton’s welfare bill, arguing that a 5-year limit would be catastrophic to inner-city mothers. He continues to be an influential advocate for those oppressed by issues of race and poverty, whether through speaking out on current policy at publications like The American Academy of Political and Social Sciences or influencing popular TV shows such as The Wire.

By Kristen Brida