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April 12, 2021

Consumption, COVID, and Economic Inequality

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

For some people, the COVID pandemic has had a silver lining: more savings. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, American savings rates reached a 60-year high of 33.7 percent in April 2020 up from 12.9 percent in March 2020. (We have data on savings rates going back to 1960.)

This means that month Americans saved an about a third of their income, on average. This percentage has remained high, at 20.5% in January 2021, the most recent data available at the time of this writing. For context, the previous high was 17.3 percent in May 1975. The National Bureau of Economics Research reported that 27 percent of stimulus payment from the CARES act was saved as well.

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April 05, 2021

Vaccine Disparities and COVID-19

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

As I write, both of my parents just received their second COVID-19 vaccinations. This is of course a great relief, since they are in their 70s, but their experience highlights some of the inequities built into the scramble to get vaccinated.

While the U.S. supply cannot keep up with demand at the moment, in some countries there is no supply at all. According to UNICEF, and reported by NPR, about 130 countries had no vaccine as of mid-February. In the U.S., the distribution varies quite a bit per state, with some states vaccinating at twice the rate of others. (See this NPR Tracker to find out how your state compares.)

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March 29, 2021

The Challenges of Academia and Finding Positivity during the Pandemic

Myron strongBy Myron Strong

There is a sadness in parts of academia, facilitated by toxic structures like outdated tenure systems, labor exploitation, unrealistic research demands, financial constraints, isolation, and COVID-19, to name just a few. And as I go on Twitter and scroll through posts, there is so much pain from professors and students and I am reminded of Jay Z’s song Song Cry:

I can't see 'em comin down my eyes
So I gotta make the song cry.”

Some social media posts often convey a sense of hopelessness from academics, and even if I cannot see the tears coming down their eyes, I can feel them. Without question academia can be a challenging place and the pandemic and magnified existing problems. Yet how can we begin to fully understand the world and how to solve problems if we are caught in a web or sorrow and misery?

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March 22, 2021

Applying Weber’s Concept of Bureaucracy to the Pandemic

Jessica polingBy Jessica Poling

Like many of the classical theorists of his age, nineteenth-century German social theorist Max Weber sought to define “modernity.” Weber lived in a society experiencing rapid economic, political, and social changes and devoted much of his time to characterizing what defined modern society and how (and why) society had come to look differently than it ever had before. Weber explored many facets of modernity (including religion, social class, and politics), eventually developing one of his most famous concepts, “bureaucracy.”

According to Weber, modern society is in part defined by the introduction of bureaucracies, a new type of organization developed alongside capitalist values in western Europe. Unlike other organizational forms, bureaucracies exhibit a unique set of characteristics that set them apart. First, bureaucracies are defined by a clear-cut chain of command, wherein every member reports to someone of higher status and knows their own role and responsibility within the organization.

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March 15, 2021

Unions: Power Houses of Political Engagement

Jenny Enos author photoBy Jenny Enos

Sociology Doctoral Student, Rutgers University

It’s no secret that elections are heavily influenced by spending and donations from wealthy individuals, corporations, and various special interest groups. In the 2020 presidential election a less obvious key player in the political field garnered plenty of attention: labor unions. Given that many unions represent blue-collar workers – a key demographic for any presidential campaign – their endorsements of candidates are widely sought after among both Democrats and Republicans.

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March 08, 2021

Reflections on the Capitol Insurrection: Values, Symbols, and Contradictions

Myron strong author photoBy Myron Strong

Like most kids in the 1980s, part of my daily school routine each morning back then was to stand for the pledge of alliance. Images of my grade school teachers asking a class of snaggle-toothed, freshly groomed brown-skinned joyous third graders run across my mind. We all rose for the pledge, but none of us really knew what it meant. How could we, since we were children? 

I remember standing together, silent and thinking more about the impending morning chocolate milk more than the pledge. But the pledge has never felt right to me, even when I was just a kid. I stopped rising and standing for it about 30 years ago. Throughout the years various people have asked me why I don’t rise. I usually just respond with an answer based on the treatment of minorities (racial, sexual, religious) and women, and I explain that I do not feel like the United States its iconography represents justice, respect, acceptance, and freedom.

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March 03, 2021

Sociology of Adoption

Jonathan Wynn (1)By Jonathan Wynn

I wasn’t really eager to write about adoption. It’s a little personal, and still new. And yet, I can’t help but to think about everything in a sociological way and so, over the past two years, I’ve been mulling over the issues, and thought it would be a useful way to think about the sociology of families.

Joshua Gamson’s book Modern Families details how today’s family is the product of complex societal changes that weave together incredibly intimate and complicated personal experiences with larger social forces (e.g., reproductive technologies, international policies, reproductive freedom, gay and lesbian family rights, geopolitical power, changes in work, delayed parenting, global inequalities and war). Adoption is one piece of the story of what being a family means today.

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