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Walmart-Logo_color_0Walmart made headlines recently by announcing it is raising its base wage rate to $9 per hour (going to $10 per hour in 2016). In response, Gary Silverman of The Financial Times suggests that “Walmart stirs hopes of a Fordist revival,” referring to Henry Ford’s famous implementation of a $5 day in 1914 – double the going rate at the time. Similarly, Paul Krugman, Princeton economist and New York Times columnist, argues that Walmart’s “wage hike seems to reflect the same forces that led to” rising real wages and declining inequality for nearly three decades after the Second World War.

While the comparison between Walmart and Ford is apt in some respects, unfortunately, the broader institutional context of today’s postindustrial, globalized, financialized economy is far different from that of the post-WWII years. As a result, the move by Wal-Mart is unlikely to signal a broad reversal of the current trajectory of the American labor market, which is characterized by stagnating wages and rising inequality.

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A new study published by researchers at North Carolina State University tackles the challenge of shopping for, preparing and sharing healthful family meals.  In “The Joy of Cooking?,” Sarah Bowen, Sinikka Elliott and Joslyn Brenton describe women in particular as struggling to enact cultural ideals associated with home-cooked meals.  Expensive ingredients, time pressures and picky eaters seem to conspire against them, with poor, working-class and middle-class mothers all feeling the pinch.

The study’s findings were hotly debated in recent weeks, with coverage and commentary in outlets such as Slate, PBS and The New York Times focusing almost exclusively on values and priorities.  Some praised the study for questioning the idealization of burdensome family dinners.  Others called for increased commitment to home-cooked family meals, citing the rewards of time spent together and noting how easy and rewarding meal preparation can be.

Because the debate’s participants have primarily viewed the issues through lenses of family and food rather than work, very little of the debate has broached the root causes of families’ mealtime struggles:  deteriorating employment opportunities, stagnant wages, and changing expectations of workers. Read More

If you only looked at media portrayals (and a great deal of sociological research), you might write off black men as mostly trapped by an educational system that too often fails them, labor market that under-employs them, and criminal justice system that over-incarcerates them. You might conclude that there are a few black men who happen to beat these social structures and become highly visible role models who advocate for adopting appropriate values as a way of achieving social and personal success. Overall, however, it would be easy to conclude that most black men fall somewhere in these two camps.

My research challenges this generalization. Realizing that black men who work in professional jobs are virtually absent from much sociological research, I conducted a study of the ways that race, gender, and class shape their work experiences to get a sense of how we can learn more about the sociological processes that impact various aspects of their occupational trajectories. The findings are reported in my new book, No More Invisible Man: Race and Gender in Men’s Work.

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The Luddite sees industrial robots everywhere and, fearing negative effects on employment, begins to rage against the machines.

Seeing the same robots, the (liberal) economist exclaims, “What marvelous labor-saving technology. This will maximize productivity, and jobs that are lost in this factory will be replaced with high-tech jobs elsewhere in the economy!”

The Marxist sighs, and responds, “Is this some sort of joke? In the US today, seventeen percent of the American workforce – 27 million individual workers – is unemployed or underemployed.”

 

I imagined this scenario as I read the most recent entry in the New York Times’ consistently excellent series on the iEconomy, which focused on a new generation of robots being deployed in manufacturing.

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Last week I discussed the connection between the Occupy Wall Street protests and the long-term transfer of national income into the finance sector. Well the problem is worse than Wall Street’s power over the national economy and polity.

There really are two faces to financialization. The most familiar face is the dominance of the finance sector over the rest of us: the giant profits and bonuses at the big banks and investment houses and the instability generated by too big to fail but rapaciously imprudent financial services firms. The other face is the financialization of the rest of the economy. Greta Krippner figured this out first. Greta discovered that since the 1980s firms in the non-finance sector have increasingly invested, not in the production of goods and services, but in financial instruments. The productive economy, Main Street in some formulations, has increasingly abandoned production in favor of financial shenanigans. Finance related income, including interest, foreign exchange profits, and stock market investments have risen from about 1/8th of corporate profits to around 30%. In the manufacturing sector the move from production to financial strategies has been even more dramatic, rising to a ratio of finance revenue/profit as high as .60 after 2000.

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