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Tag Archives: Inequality

 

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It is difficult to speak to a discipline like sociology, which has a diverse set of interests and various approaches to study society. However, Kevin Leicht’s recent post on this blog did just that and very successfully. The last time I checked, the post had been shared more than 200 times on Facebook. Many sociologists find his diagnosis of our intellectual illness accurate as well as brave and refreshing.

Leicht argues that, in an era of hyper-inequality, the study of inequality should shift away from between-group inequality to within-group inequality; from education to jobs and labor market institutions; from a narrow focus on diversity and sensitivity to an emphasis on the divide between haves and have-nots.

I think Leicht’s prescriptions are right on the money, especially at a time when Donald Trump gains increasing support from working-class Americans and Hilary Clinton called half of his supporters “a basket of deplorables.”  Indeed, one can argue that the current hyper-inequality began in the 1970s when the Democratic Party started to embrace college-educated professionals over their traditional blue-collar workers as their main constituency. Working-class Americans, lured by the Republicans with nationalism and the “Cultural War,” began to vote against their class interests.

But Leicht’s diagnosis does not cut deep enough.

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Unite Here rally for BWI workers in Annapolis, MD. Image: United Workers via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Unite Here rally for BWI workers in Annapolis, MD. Image: United Workers via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

by Barry Eidlin

In the 2016 presidential race, candidates from both major parties are looking for ways to address inequality.

Partly, they must do so because seven years after the 2008 crash, many Americans still aren’t getting ahead, according to several analyses by the Economic Policy Institute think tank. In fact, that’s nothing new. Factoring in inflation, wage growth has stagnated for the bottom 90% of Americans since 1979.

In the campaign ahead, these struggling Americans will be called many things: “forgotten,” “hardworking,” “ordinary,” “everyday,” and of course, “middle class.”

What they will not be called is “working class.” To the extent that anyone refers to the “working class,” it will be as a not-so-coded reference to white, male, blue-collar workers, even though the term can apply to people of both genders, and any race, in many different sorts of work.

This failure to talk about class obscures one of the primary drivers of the growth in income inequality: the decline of labor unions. Research I’ve been conducting on the intersection of political sociology, inequality and social policy suggests that union decline is linked to a political process that has pushed class issues off the table in the US – unlike Canada, where the income gap hasn’t widened nearly as much.

If the current crop of US presidential candidates really wants to address the growing inequality gap in America, getting class back on the agenda would be a good place to start.

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Time chefsby Deborah A. Harris and Patti Giuffre

Imagine you’ve stepped inside one of those foodie television shows. You know, the ones set in fine dining restaurants where waiters and sous chefs dash around the kitchen at a frenetic pace, calling out food orders, and tasting dishes in hopes they will live up to the executive chef’s exacting palate. The executive chef moves through the kitchen and is clearly in charge of the action. Maybe the chef you’re imagining is barking orders at subordinates. Maybe they’re appraising the kitchen with a cool eye.

Now, imagine you’re in a different type of kitchen—a kitchen in the “typical” middle-class American home. In this setting, the “chef” is grabbing food out of the refrigerator and, instead of sous chefs, young children are whipping around the kitchen talking about soccer games and piano lessons that have to be worked into everyone’s schedule. Instead of worrying about earning another Michelin star or impressing a food reviewer, this “chef” is just trying to get dinner on the table for the family.

In the two scenarios above, what genders did you imagine for the chefs? If you’re like most people, you probably pictured the professional chef as a man dressed in a white jacket and toque while the second scene may have led to visions of harried mothers, perhaps still in the clothes they wore to work, frantically trying to get dinner on the table for her family.

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Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB) promo photo via LinkedIn

Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB) promo photo via LinkedIn

The blog This is Not a Pattern has an intriguing post entitled “Ways Men in Tech are Unintentionally Sexist.” The post draws attention to various unintended but meaningful ways that men in high technology, a notoriously male-dominated field, behave and speak in ways that normalize women’s exclusion and marginalization in this profession. This is particularly timely in the wake of Ellen Pao’s recent lawsuit for gender discrimination. The author sees several ways in which the culture of high technology subordinates women: language that perpetuates men as the default and women as outsiders; normative assumptions that tokenize women, emphasizing the (assumed or real) contrasts between them and men as the majority group; and perhaps most importantly, the tendency among workers to remain silent (and thus complicit) when sexist behaviors and gender discrimination occur.

While this article highlights important patterns that no doubt contribute to the myriad challenges women face in technology, I found this article particularly interesting because in many ways these innocuous behaviors are likely found in many male-dominated professions. Kris Paap’s ethnography of women working construction, for instance, provides extensive evidence of how men assume a gendered (male) worker in this field, and how that assumption shapes their language and interactions in ways that help maintain women’s underrepresentation in this field. Similarly, sociologists like Louise Roth and Jennifer Pierce have shown how women in finance and law, respectively, face cultural assumptions about their lack of qualifications, skill, and suitability for their professions.

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Image: pixabay.com

Image: pixabay.com

by Michael L. Rosino, Devon R. Goss, and Matthew W. Hughey

One only need picture the typical American corporate boss (white, male, and wealthy) in order to conjure up the history of discrimination and inequality within the business realm. Over the past few decades, business leaders have attempted to address these problems through efforts oriented at increasing diversity. For instance, in 2014, major tech companies including Google, Apple, Twitter, and Facebook released their diversity statistics in reports to the media under pressure from journalists and activists. While the reports revealed the overwhelming white masculinity of the modern corporation, the companies still framed their statistics as reflecting their commitment to diversity.

The release of these reports garnered media speculation about the causes of this lack of racial and gender diversity and the implications for the future of race and gender inequalities. Alongside news publications such as the New York Times and Washington Post, articles in business media outlets such as Forbes, Businessweek, and The Wall Street Journal also weighed in on “Silicon Valley’s Diversity Problem” as these elements of the 4th estate have long discussed diversity initiatives in the business world.

Despite the active discussion on the wide spectrum of abstract issues around diversity, business media outlets generally present business diversity in highly specific terms. Activists and scholars might argue that diversity—especially along the lines of race, gender, and sexuality in the business sphere—matters due to concerns about macroeconomic stability, ethical fairness, and/or social justice. However, articles published in business media outlets often discuss the merits of business diversity efforts solely in terms of the “business case” for diversity.

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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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Image via Starbucks Newsroom.

by Ellen Berrey

Corporate executives and university presidents are, yet again, calling for public discussion on race and racial inequality. Revelations about the tech industry’s diversity problem have company officials convening panels on workplace barriers, and, at the University of Oklahoma spokespeople and students are organizing town-hall sessions in response to a fraternity’s racist chant.

The most provocative of the efforts was Starbucks’ failed Race Together program. In March, the company announced that it would ask baristas to initiate dialogues with customers about America’s most vexing dilemma. Although public outcry shut down those conversations before they even got to “Hello,” Starbucks said it would nonetheless carry on Race Together with forums and special USA Today discussion guides. As someone who has done sociological research on diversity initiatives for the past 15 years, I was intrigued.

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