Image: Juliet Schor

Image: Juliet Schor

by Juliet B. Schor and William Attwood-Charles

If one had any doubt that the “sharing economy” has become a real thing, the 2016 Presidential campaign should lay them to rest. In July Jeb Bush announced he would be using Uber on the campaign trail to show that that the “free market” can create jobs. Hillary Clinton, in her first major speech on economics, criticized gig economy platforms for failing to provide benefits.

For sociologists, these digital platforms are interesting because they are creating markets that connect people in new ways. The most important of these is Peer-to-Peer (P2P) exchange. The term comes from the open source software movement, and refers to open access communities of collaborating individuals. P2P exchanges occur between individuals, rather than a standard Business-to-Consumer or Professional-to-Consumer transaction. This is less true of Uber, where many drivers were already full-time drivers, including taxi drivers, than it is of Airbnb, a P2P lodging site, or Relay Rides, a P2P car rental site. On labor sites, such as Task Rabbit, Peers sell labor services to people who are looking for help in their home or business.

The promise of P2P platforms is that they create new economic opportunities for people to earn, in ways they can control themselves. This has proved appealing for many, especially in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, the period when many of these sites were being launched. Potential downsides include the possibility that the platforms are accelerating a race to the bottom in labor markets, and that they represent a new frontier in the encroachment of the market into daily life.

With a team of PhD students from Boston College and Boston University we have been studying both non- and for-profit P2P platforms, including the three named above (Airbnb, Relay Rides and Task Rabbit). We began studying “providers” on these sites in 2013, and have done approximately 50 interviews, the majority in Boston. Demographically, the salient features of our sample are their youth, high education levels, and whiteness, which are all characteristics of platform participation throughout the country. Although such a small sample does not allow us to definitively answer many of the questions swirling around these platforms, we do have a number of suggestive findings.

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Image: May S. Young via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Image: May S. Young via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

By Sean Waite and Nicole Denier

Over the last two decades there has been a growing interest in the labor market outcomes of gay men and lesbians. It has long been acknowledged that labor markets are stratified along multiple dimensions, such as gender, race and nativity. More recently new data has shed light on how labor market opportunities and rewards may also differ by sexual orientation. So far research has generally found that gay men earn less than straight men and lesbians earn more than straight women (in our work we show that this still means earning less than all men).

In most cases wage differences cannot be explained by differences in individual characteristics or choices, like weeks and hours worked, socio-demographic factors, education, and occupation or industry of employment. Researchers often interpret any wage gap that remains after accounting for these characteristics as discrimination. In other words, it is argued that employers and customers have a preference working with or doing business with straight men, rather than gay men. The wage advantage for lesbians relative to straight women is commonly interpreted as positive discrimination, i.e. since lesbians are less likely to be married and have fewer children, employers perceive them as more committed and less encumbered by family responsibilities than straight women. Taken another way, lesbians may experience less discrimination than straight women because they are perceived to be less encumbered by family and childcare responsibilities. But research so far has been limited by two big things. First, many data collection agencies don’t ask about sexual orientation in surveys (a great summary of this issue can be found on the Family Inequality blog), and if/when they do, it is often not asked in the context of questions about work situation. Second, research often focuses on one particular source of pay differences at a time, making it hard to evaluate the major factors driving wage inequality for gay men and lesbians.

Using Canadian Census data, we explore how various mechanisms contribute to wage gaps between gay men and straight men and lesbians and straight women, focusing on areas that researchers have identified as key determinants of how much people earn, including a 1) education and weeks/hours worked, 2) occupation and industry of employment, 3) sector of employment, and 4) family situation.

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dollarIn early June, it came to light that last October, Walt Disney World Orlando eliminated the jobs of 250 data systems employees. The move made national news not because so many workers became jobless, but because Disney offered a severance bonus to employees who remained with the firm long enough to train the young immigrant workers who would assume their tasks.

The heartlessness of this move left workers and consumers reeling. A former Disney employee told a reporter for the New York Times, “It was so humiliating to train someone else to take over your job. I still can’t grasp it.” Outrage spread across news and social media, fueled by dismay that a company so closely associated with wholesome family entertainment would betray its workers in this way.

Many observers lamented loopholes in the H-1B visa program used to secure the replacement workers’ entry to the US, and endorsed reforms that would reduce impacts on American workers. Relatively few seem to grasp that Disney’s moves are rooted not in policy loopholes or corporate malfeasance, but instead are part and parcel of capitalism. Outsourcing, layoffs and swiftly severed ties – this is what capitalism looks like. As Karl Marx pointed out in his Manifesto of the Communist Party, workers, who under capitalism “must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market.” The “increasing improvement” of production methods “ever more rapidly developing, makes their livelihood more and more precarious.” Manual workers confronted this reality decades ago, as plants in the United States closed and production moved overseas to take advantage of lower-cost labor. Increasingly, professional workers are also feeling the pain of displacement. And there is only more to come.

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Image: 401kcalculator.org via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Image: 401kcalculator.org via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

by Adam Goldstein and Neil Fligstein

The resurgence of finance over the past three decades represents one of the most remarkable trends in the recent history of capitalism. “Financialization” has become a common byword to describe the growing role of financial markets, motives, actors, and institutions in the operation of the overall economy.

One aspect of financialization that has received less attention is the role of households. As the financial industry has expanded, it has done so in large part by marketing more products to households, such as mortgages, second mortgages, mutual funds, stock trading accounts, student loans, car loans, and various forms of retirement products. But how have households themselves changed their attitudes and behavior in relation to financial markets? Should we view their primary role as that of consumers who supply the raw inputs for Wall Street’s machinations?  Or have households also started to think about their own economic activity in more financial terms? What is the scope of popular financialization?

To answer these questions we examined eighteen years of survey data from the U.S. Federal Reserve Board’s Survey of Consumer Finances. We charted changes in the financial activities and attitudes of U.S. households from 1989 to the onset of the financial crisis in 2007. Our goal was to provide a global view of the various ways that households at different points in the income distribution have become more involved with the financial economy, and how this has coevolved with their attitudes towards risk and debt.

The patterns are revealing: In terms of financial consumption, we find secular growth in the use of all kinds of financial products across the socio-economic structure. This implies that financial firms sought out customers for their products and made them available to people up and down the income distribution.

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It’s been a rough summer for academics. Just in the last few months, two black women sociologists have become the subjects of national news stories when comments they wrote on twitter drew the ire of conservatives who branded them racists and demanded that the institutions where they worked fire them. First Saida Grundy, then Zandria Robinson drew media attention when conservative websites critiqued their twitter comments on the confederate flag, white college men, and other subjects related to issues of race and inequality. In Grundy’s case, she issued a statement saying that she wished she’d chosen her words more carefully, and the furor essentially died down. In Robinson’s case, after public speculation that the university fired her, she wrote a lengthy blog post desribing the details of her long association with her former employer and ultimate decision to leave for another university.

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Source: pixabay.com

Matthew Futterman’s recent piece in The Wall Street JournalThe U.S. Soccer Double Standard,” should sound very familiar to scholars of work.

He makes the very strong case that women athletes in the U.S. are held to a different standard than men.  The evidence?  Female soccer players on the UNDEFEATED 2015 U.S. World Cup team are accused of “sloppy, uncreative play” (despite outscoring opponents by a wide margin), having “unsatisfying wins,” and some players are even apologizing for some victories, saying that their play will improve.  The coach has even been defensive in response to recent victories.

In contrast, Futterman goes on to point out, soccer players in last year’s men’s U.S. World Cup team won one game (against Ghana), tied a game (against Portugal), and lost to Germany and Belgium yet were hailed as the “spunky underdogs storming the gates of the soccer establishment” and widely celebrated upon their return home.  I’m not able to find record of ANY member of the men’s national team apologizing for their 2014 World Cup performance. The double standard, some argue, is because we have heightened expectations for women to win—and win big—and expect less of the men.  The women recently won two World Cup titles (in 1991 and 1999) and at the start of World Cup play were ranked second in the world by FIFA. The men have qualified for every World Cup since 1990 but have never won a title.

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Image: Dave Crosby via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Image: Dave Crosby via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

by Peter Fleming

Are you paid what you are worth? What is the relationship between the actual work you do and the remuneration you receive?

The revelation that London dog walkers are paid considerably higher (£32,356) than the national wage average (£22,044) tells us much about how employment functions today. Not only are dog walkers paid more, but they work only half the hours of the average employee.

It is clear that the relationship between jobs and pay is now governed by a new principle. The old days in which your pay was linked to the number of hours you clocked up, the skill required and the societal worth of the job are long over. Other factors play a bigger role in determining how much you are rewarded today. This is why we live in a world where the task of walking a millionaire’s dog through Hyde Park is considered more valuable than an NHS nurse (starting salary £21k).

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