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The Colors of Poverty

Why Racial and Ethnic Disparities Persist

Ann Chih Lin, David R. Harris

Publication Year: 2008

Given the increasing diversity of the nation—particularly with respect to its growing Hispanic and Asian populations—why does racial and ethnic difference so often lead to disadvantage? In The Colors of Poverty, a multidisciplinary group of experts provides a breakthrough analysis of the complex mechanisms that connect poverty and race.The Colors of Poverty reframes the debate over the causes of minority poverty by emphasizing the cumulative effects of disadvantage in perpetuating poverty across generations. The contributors consider a kaleidoscope of factors that contribute to widening racial gaps, including education, racial discrimination, social capital, immigration, and incarceration. Michèle Lamont and Mario Small grapple with the theoretical ambiguities of existing cultural explanations for poverty disparities.  They argue that culture and structure are not competing explanations for poverty, but rather collaborate to produce disparities. Looking at how attitudes and beliefs exacerbate racial stratification, social psychologist Heather Bullock links the rise of inequality in the United States to an increase in public tolerance for disparity. She suggests that the American ethos of rugged individualism and meritocracy erodes support for antipoverty programs and reinforces the belief that people are responsible for their own poverty. Sociologists Darren Wheelock and Christopher Uggen focus on the collateral consequences of incarceration in exacerbating racial disparities and are the first to propose a link between legislation that blocks former drug felons from obtaining federal aid for higher education and the black/white educational attainment gap. Joe Soss and Sanford Schram argue that the increasingly decentralized and discretionary nature of state welfare programs allows for different treatment of racial groups, even when such policies are touted as “race-neutral.” They find that states with more blacks and Hispanics on welfare rolls are consistently more likely to impose lifetime limits, caps on benefits for mothers with children, and stricter sanctions. The Colors of Poverty is a comprehensive and evocative introduction to the dynamics of race and inequality. The research in this landmark volume moves scholarship on inequality beyond a simple black-white paradigm, beyond the search for a single cause of poverty, and beyond the promise of one “magic bullet” solution.

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation

Series: National Poverty Center Series on Poverty and Public Policy

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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1. Why Is American Poverty Still Colored in the Twenty-First Century?

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pp. 1-18

In the United States, one of every three African American children and one of every four Latino children lives in poverty. For white children, the number is one in seven (U.S. Census Bureau 2007). Substantial progress for racial minorities has occurred over the last forty years, and yet the life chances of the average...

Part 1. Group Identity and Group Outcomes

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pp. 19-20

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2. The Dynamics of Discrimination

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pp. 21-51

In 1927, a New York clothing manufacturer advertised for help with a notice typical of that time period: “White Workers $24: Colored Workers $20” (Schiller 2004, 190; see also Darity and Mason 1998, table 1). At the time, ads like these were common, with the explicit understanding that whites were more...

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3. Justifying Inequality: A Social Psychological Analysis of Beliefs About Poverty and the Poor

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pp. 52-75

Anews story reports that 12.6 percent of the United States population was poor in 2004. No demographic information is provided. Who do you think the poor are?
You watch a television program about low-income mothers trying to make ends meet. One of the mothers featured says that employers don’t want to hire...

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4. How Culture Matters: Enriching Our Understanding of Poverty

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pp. 76-102

The term culture figures prominently in the literature on poverty, race, and ethnicity, though rarely with much theoretical or empirical sophistication. Conceived rather vaguely as a group’s norms and values, as its attitudes toward work and family, or as its observed patterns of behavior,1 culture has been...

Part 2. Nonracial Explanation for Racial Disparities in Poverty

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pp. 103-104

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5. How Educational Inequality Develops

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pp. 105-134

Academic achievement—schooling completed and degrees attained, as well as the skills and capabilities associated with these credentials—is an important determinant of socioeconomic success. Few if any personal characteristics are more strongly and positively related to an individual’s later occupational...

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6. Poverty, Migration, and Health

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pp. 135-169

Living and working conditions are important determinants of health because they underscore differential exposure to health risks and resources. Accordingly, poverty and other indicators of socioeconomic status (SES) are important contexts that shape the distribution of health risks and resources. Moreover...

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7. Can Social Capital Explain Persistent Racial Poverty Gaps?

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pp. 170-198

Social capital has recently become one of the most widely used concepts in sociology and social science. No fewer than four monographs (Lin 2001; Aberg and Sandberg 2003; Feld 2003; Halpern 2005), ten edited volumes, and 900 social science articles (Halpern 2005, figure 1.1) on social capital have been published since 2001. The term has been one of sociology’s most successful exports...

Part 3. Policy, Race, and Poverty: Intentions and Consequences

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pp. 199-200

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8. Race, Place, and Poverty Revisited

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pp. 201-231

Not long ago, the lens viewing urban America displayed chocolate cities and vanilla suburbs. Popular funk bands of the 1970s, such as Parliament with their megahit “Chocolate Cities,” helped mold this understanding through musical lyrics that described American urban areas becoming darker and poorer while suburbs were emerging as white and rich (Avila 2004). U.S. cities...

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9. Place, Race, and Access to the Safety Net

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pp. 232-260

This volume and other research show the clear connections between place, racial segregation, and concentrated poverty in urban and rural communities. Living in impoverished neighborhoods isolated from job opportunities, good schools, and quality housing is associated with negative education, employment...

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10. Punishment, Crime, and Poverty

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pp. 261-292

The association between crime, punishment, and poverty has long been the subject of sociological and criminological investigation. Recent work has shifted attention to the role of criminal punishment in explaining contemporary trends in inequality (Clear 2007; Clear, Rose, and Ryder 2001; Pager 2003...

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11. Coloring the Terms of Membership

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pp. 293-322

Most studies of racial and ethnic inequalities focus on how discrete, measurable things get allocated across groups. “Who benefits,” researchers ask as they examine the allocation of goods, “and why do some get more than others?” Such questions rightly lie at the heart of our collective effort to understand how inequalities persist and change. Yet they are not the whole of it. Disparities...


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pp. 323-334

E-ISBN-13: 9781610447249
Print-ISBN-13: 9780871545398

Page Count: 344
Publication Year: 2008

Series Title: National Poverty Center Series on Poverty and Public Policy
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OCLC Number: 835517090
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Colors of Poverty

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Subject Headings

  • Minorities -- United States -- Social conditions.
  • Minorities -- United States -- Economic conditions.
  • Poverty -- United States -- Cross-cultural studies.
  • Poor -- United States -- Cross-cultural studies.
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