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William Wilson

William Julius Wilson (1935– )

“We shouldn’t rely solely on standardized tests because they don’t really capture true potential.”
–William Julius

National Medal of Science recipient in 1998 “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 was born in the small mining town of Blairsville, Pa., where he shared a bedroom with his five siblings. When Wilson was 12, his father passed away. The family lived on relief before his mother found a part-time job cleaning houses, and often went hungry. After experiencing the effects of poverty and unemployment as a child, Wilson has devoted his career to studying social injustice in African American communities.

Wilson earned his Ph.D. from Washington State University in 1966, and taught at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst before joining the University of Chicago (UChicago) faculty in 1972. During his time at UChicago, Wilson published some of the field's most significant texts about urban poverty, starting with “The Declining Significance of Race: Blacks and Changing American Institutions” in 1978. Wilson’s work examines the interaction between cultural and institutional factors that contribute to racial inequality, concluding that combating racism is not enough to alleviate poverty in America’s inner cities

President Bill Clinton frequently called upon Wilson as an advisor while in office, stating during his first presidential campaign that Wilson’s 1987 publication, “The Truly Disadvantaged,” “made [him] see the problems of race and poverty and the inner city in a different light.”

In 1996, Wilson joined the faculty at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, where he currently holds the distinguished title of University Professor and directs the Joblessness and Urban Poverty Research Program. Wilson also sits on the board of directors for Public/Private Ventures, a national nonprofit that works to improve the effectiveness of social programs serving youth from poor urban communities.

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