Kevin Lang’s Poverty and Discrimination is marketed as a text but it is far more. Imagine a first-rate labor economist sitting down to tell us what he knows about the topics at hand. This includes who is poor, does economic growth still eliminate poverty, how much does family structure matter, does changing neighborhoods help a family, what have been the effects of welfare reform, how strong is labor market race discrimination, and many others. Lang’s discussions are consistently smart and insightful. While Lang does not offer much of his own ideas and research, only an original researcher such as Lang could produce a survey of this quality and depth.
Why isn’t there a book like this on every topic?
I do have a few quibbles. For my tastes there is too much talk about identification problems and not enough about data quality. Some topics are undercovered, such as the link between mental illness and poverty. I would have added much more on poverty as a behavioral phenomenon of dysfunctional psychology and high time preferences. The old scolding conservative account of poverty has much truth to it, but you wouldn’t know that from reading this book.
This book is academic substance, beginning to end, and for that reason it won’t be a fun read to everybody. But with that caveat, and noting the $60.00 purchase price, it joins my list (Sacred Games, The Savage Detectives, Prophet of Innovation) of must-reads for the year.