292 posts categorized "Social Problems, Politics, and Social Change"

October 17, 2014

Who is a Low Wage Earner?

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

The mayor of Los Angeles has proposed increasing the minimum wage to $13.25 an hour in the city, and requested an analysis of the potential impact an increase would have on workers and businesses.  Researchers from UC Berkeley’s Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics produced a report and concluded that more than a half a million workers in the city would get a raise (those earning minimum wage and those earning below the proposed minimum wage).

The report provides a demographic profile on these low-wage workers. They comprise 37 percent of those earning wages in the private sector; 39 percent of women and 35 percent of men. The vast majority—83 percent—are persons of color.

Despite the widespread belief that most low-wage workers are teens earning extra spending money while attending school, in Los Angeles few of them are teens; 38 percent of low wage workers are in their twenties, nearly 22 percent are in their thirties, and 37 percent are over forty. The majority work full time, and 36 percent have children.

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October 14, 2014

Understanding Violence Sociologically

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

Violence is ubiquitous. We see it in television shows, movies, video games, and advertisements; we read about it in news articles, magazines, and books; we speak about it—both literally when we recount what’s happening in the world, but more often figuratively with an array of violent phrases that pervade our everyday speech;  we fear it with our security systems, gun purchases, and police forces; and we experience it, directly or indirectly, in our homes, schools, communities, workplaces, playing fields, and battlefields.

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October 02, 2014

Social Interaction and Drought Shaming

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

There is currently a severe drought in California, and this summer new rules went into effect to conserve water. For instance, a water feature (like a fountain) must re-circulate the same water. You cannot hose down the sidewalk, nor can you wash your car with a hose that doesn’t have a shutoff nozzle. Your lawn cannot be watered between 9 am and 5 pm (to limit evaporation). A violation of these new rules could result in a $500 ticket.

Authorities can’t possibly police every violation, so they are hoping that the public helps by complying and asking neighbors to comply. In response, a Twitter hashtag #droughtshaming has emerged to embarrass people caught needlessly wasting water. Tweets range from photos of neighbors overwatering their lawns to puddles in parking lots and public fountains. Perhaps the biggest example of drought shaming was the backlash to the recent “ice bucket challenge,” where people challenged others to dump a bucket of ice over their heads and post a video or photo to raise awareness about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Critics argued that this was a waste of water, albeit for a good cause.

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September 15, 2014

Ebola and the Construction of Fear

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

No doubt you have heard about the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which received heightened attention in the news after three Americans working as missionaries in Liberia contracted the virus. The first two, diagnosed in mid-August, become the topic of debate when they were given an experimental drug and airlifted home to the U.S.

Some wondered why they received the drug, while thousands of those infected in Africa did not (it is currently considered experimental and apparently in very short supply). Others expressed concern that they would spread the disease in the U.S. and should have been treated in Liberia.

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September 11, 2014

Gender and Sexual Assaults on Campus

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

As we go back to school, there has been a lot of talk about preventing sexual assault on campus. This is not a new problem. In fact, I wrote a blog about rape and sexual assault two years ago.

Much of the discussion is about assessing the rate of sexual assault on college campuses, but even after the Clery Act, it’s often difficult to know what the actual numbers are or how to prevent it. However, the prevention tips and policies are one-sided, typically focusing on how potential rape and sexual assault victims can avoid being victimized.

It’s like saying to a murder victim, don’t get in the way of your potential murderer. Blaming the victim is not an effective way to deal with any issue.

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September 08, 2014

What is “Affordable” Housing?

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

On July 21, 2014 Inae Oh published an article at the Huffington Post that discussed the New York City Council approved development of a condominium high-rise at 40 Riverside Boulevard on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The planned development will provide 218 market-rate condominiums with views of the Hudson River, and access to amenities such as a child area, gym, and swimming pool. 

In order to create a larger footprint and obtain millions in tax breaks through New York City’s Inclusionary Housing Program, Extell, the developer of this project, will also provide 55 affordable housing rental units to moderate- and low-income residents.  The “affordable” rental units will go for $845 for a studio, $908 for a one-bedroom, and $1099 for a two-bedroom. 

Households with incomes that are 60% below New York City’s median income are eligible to apply.  To qualify for these units a family of four will need to make less than $51,540 a year and a single person will need to make less than $36,120 a year.  Tenants in the affordable housing units will not have access to the building’s amenities and will have to enter through a separate door – which from photographs appears to be located in an alleyway

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August 25, 2014

Michael Brown, Ferguson, Missouri, and the Invisibility of Race

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

Fans of the Colbert Report are familiar with Stephen Colbert’s long-running routine about not seeing race (here is one of many examples during his interview with Michelle Alexander).  Pretending to be a conservative talk-show host, Colbert often pretends that he does not see race and that we live in a society where skin color is no longer important. He is especially fond of emphasizing this last point given that we have a Black president in the White House.

Although Colbert is playing this role to get laughs from his audience, the sad irony is that the majority of conservatives and a fair number of whites actually subscribe to this point of view.  The idea that race is no longer important in the United States becomes particularly evident when there are confrontations between Black citizens and white police officers. The fatal shooting of Michael Brown, the unarmed Black man who was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, offers a prime example.

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July 29, 2014

The Never-Ending Beauty Shift

Peter rydzewskiBy Peter Rydzewski

Sociology Ph.D. student, University of Maryland

The idea that physical characteristics can be socially developed may be difficult to consider at first. According to Raewyn Connell, however, “bodies are both objects of social practice and agents in social practice” (p.67). This means that while most of our appearance is commonly attributed to gene composition and biological parents’ body characteristics, discussions about the power of gender expectations, although sometimes missed, continue to play a large role in the development of the way that we look.

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July 18, 2014

Collective Memory and the Danger of Forgetting

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

A few years ago I wrote about the importance of collective memories following the centennial coverage of the sinking of the Titanic. Collective memories are societal-level memories, shared by regularly told stories, and are often events we might have intimate knowledge of even if we weren’t born when they occurred.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion at Normandy, the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act, and the 20th anniversary of O.J. Simpson’s “slow speed chase” and subsequent arrest. Why are these events part of our collective memories?

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July 11, 2014

So Fresh Saturdays: Public Events and Building Collective Action

Teresa gonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

One of the few reasons I keep a Facebook page is so that I can keep up to date on the various community-building activities within Chicago. These range from hyper-local block club parties and various neighborhood festivals, to citywide events and music concerts held in the downtown Loop area.

In his book, Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect, Robert Sampson highlights the importance of community building activities as ways to increase collective efficacy. Put simply, collective efficacy means social cohesion (or connectivity) combined with shared goals and expectations regarding group behaviors.

For Sampson, public activities are particularly relevant in poor communities, where he argues that a history of concentrated poverty leads to a decrease in collective efficacy, and diminishes civic action. He argues, and I agree, that these events, and the increased relationships between neighbors that result from these events, can improve citizen involvement and lead to what Archon Fung terms “empowered participation” or innovative problem-solving and civic action by and amongst low-income residents.

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