Jobs & Housing: Trust, Distrust, and Social Class in the Black Community

January 21, 2008

As part of the University of Michigan's 2008 month-long celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the National Poverty Center and the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy hosted a book signing and talk on Jobs & Housing: Trust, Distrust, and Social Class in the Black Community. Early in their careers, the two invited speakers, Mary Pattillo and Sandra S. Smith, participated in the Ford School's Research and Training Program on Poverty and Public Policy under the mentorship of Professor Sheldon H. Danziger, co-director of the National Poverty Center.

In an often humorous yet powerful narrative, Lone Pursuit: Distrust and Defensive Individualism among the Black Poor, Sandra S. Smith explores the reasons many African American jobseekers have trouble finding work. Lone Pursuit contains a series of interviews with low-income black jobholders and low-income black jobseekers on the topic of finding employment.

In her book, Smith recounts conversations among blacks about their employment status, including colorful banter from jobholders about the untrustworthiness of jobseekers—oftentimes friends, neighbors, and family members who, according to traditional models of networking might be expected to rely on the jobholders to open doors and provide references. From these interviews, Smith discovered a surprising fact—that in the search for a job, the largest obstacle for jobseekers to overcome was an overwhelming lack of trust from jobholders.

Now, an assistant professor of Sociology at the University of California Berkeley, Smith plans to extend her research to include black, Latino, white, and Asian perceptions on employment in the San Francisco area.

Mary Pattillo's new book, Black on the Block: The Politics of Race and Class in the City, addresses the effects of gentrification and mixed-income housing policies in one primarily black neighborhood within Chicago. Black on the Block reveals the fights that often take place between homeowners and apartment dwellers as they clash over the social connotations of gentrification.

A recently tenured professor at Northwestern University, Pattillo's previous work includes the groundbreaking and influential book Black Picket Fences: Privilege and Peril Among the Black Middle Class.

The Research and Training Program on Poverty and Public Policy postdoctoral program has been in operation since 1989 and has received most of its funding from the Ford Foundation. The postdoc trainees specialize in interdisciplinary research on the causes and consequences of poverty and how poverty and other socio-economic disadvantages can be ameliorated by public policies. They study a wide range of social science theories and methodological techniques in the classroom, serve as apprentice researchers under the supervision of nationally-recognized scholars, design and conduct their own research projects, and have access to the resources and research support services of the University of Michigan.

Sandra S. Smith began the fieldwork for her eventual book while participating in the postdoc program and Danziger cites both Pattillo and Smith as examples of the program's success. "The long-term impact of the postdoctoral program is achieved when, like Sandra and Mary, the postdocs themselves become professors and mentors of social policies at other universities," Danziger said. "People view this program and the University of Michigan as an excellent place to immerse themselves in issues related to poverty and social policy, whether it's starting new projects or having the time to turn on going projects into book."

Learn more about Professor Danziger's work with the Research and Training Program on Poverty and Public Policy.