A Coalition of Power and Hope

William Julius Wilson has a way of shaking things up. In his landmark 1978 book The Declining Significance of Race, he argued that class and economics plays a more significant role than race in causing inner-city poverty. His last book, When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor—which the New York Times Book Review named one of the most notable books of 1996—examined the devastating effects of the loss of jobs on individuals, families, and neighborhoods in our cities. For these and other works, Time magazine named Wilson as one of America’s 25 Most Influential People, stating, "No thinker has done more than William Julius Wilson to explain why the black underclass sank into such misery and isolation at the same time millions of other African Americans were escaping from the ghetto to create a vibrant middle class."

Wilson, who taught for 24 years at the University of Chicago and was a MacArthur Prize Fellow, is now the Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor at Harvard University. His next book, The Bridge Over the Racial Divide: Rising Inequality and Coalition Politics (University of California Press) is due out in October. He was interviewed in May in Cambridge, Massachusetts, by Sojourners editor Jim Wallis.

Jim Wallis: How do you explain the stunning silence in this country about rising social inequality?

William Julius Wilson: Messages about rising inequality probably would have resonated more if they had been presented forcefully a few years ago, rather than today, because of the strong economic recovery.

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