Understanding the Nature of Poverty in Urban America

Understanding the Nature of Poverty in Urban America

Understanding the Nature of Poverty in Urban America

Understanding the Nature of Poverty in Urban America


This book is designed to help readers navigate through the vast and rapidly growing literature on poverty in urban America. The major themes, topics, debates, and issues are examined through an analysis of eight basic questions about the nature and problem of urban poverty.


In 1991, under the auspices of the Rockefeller Foundation and the Boston Foundation's Persistent Poverty Project, a racially and ethnically diverse group from labor, government, business, and religious and neighborhood organizations was convened in Boston. the forty-member Strategy Development Group, as it is called, represents extensive personal, professional, civic, and political involvement with urban poverty. With the guidance of the Strategy Development Group, the Boston Persistent Poverty Project has been working to develop effective local strategies to build community capacity and a constituency for sustained collaboration, and to provide a framework for the new skills, relationships, and leadership required for the eradication of chronic, intergenerational poverty in Boston.

After several early meetings, the Strategy Development Group expressed a need for familiarizing itself with some aspects of the vast and often contradictory literature on urban poverty. James Jennings, director of the William Monroe Trotter Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Boston and a consultant to the Boston Persistent Poverty Project, was asked to assist us with this endeavor. He suggested that one way to accomplish this would be to develop an overview of some of the major political questions and policy debates about poverty in urban America. Such a summary would provide the members of the Strategy Development Group with both a context for recent literature and a review of major theories to complement and augment their extensive direct experience. Finally, it would help the group to crystalize its thinking and develop more effective strategies.

This study focuses on eight major topics written about and debated by researchers about the nature of poverty in urban America. These topics were selected for their pertinence to questions asked by the Strategy Development Group, but we hope that they will also inform public officials, media professionals, and community-based organizations about the major public policy and research debates related to urban poverty, and narrow the information gap that too often exists between the research community and the general public.

We hope this information is useful to the many people committed to understanding and confronting one of the most difficult and pressing issues of our time: the growth of poverty in our nation's cities. We are grateful to Professor James Jennings for his timely and important contribution.

Ana Faith Jones, President the Boston Foundation . . .

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