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Tag Archives: poverty

Image: Julie Jordan Scott via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Image: Julie Jordan Scott via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

by Brian C. Thiede, Daniel T. Lichter, and Scott R. Sanders

Pundits and politicians in the U.S. frequently assume that poverty is the result of joblessness and idleness, and in contrast, upward social and economic mobility is possible for anyone given sufficient work effort. Such assumptions about work and poverty underpin many social policies. For example, minimum wages are largely designed to ensure that work is remunerated with a basic, presumably above-poverty standard of living. Stringent time limits and work requirements on many so-called safety net programs also presume that incentivizing work is an effective means of reducing poverty and public sector dependence.

In contrast to these assumptions, however, evidence suggests that a large share of the poor live in families which are attached to the formal workforce. Yet to date researchers have produced a rather limited set of empirical findings about the working poor. In our judgment, this knowledge gap has largely been due to inconsistent conceptualization and measurement of the working poor across studies. To address this gap, our research has examined the conceptual and normative assumptions behind different measurement choices for studying the working poor, and compared empirical estimates based on a range of measures.  Our findings demonstrate that working poverty is a widespread problem, but also show that estimates of the magnitude of the problem are sensitive to measurement choices.

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Which_way_homeby Herbert J. Gans

The United States, like other modern economies, is experiencing a new and possibly long-lasting era of rising economic inequality, which may result in further political and class inequality. Consequently, sociologists should be asking themselves what roles they and their discipline can play in understanding these inequalities, particularly the societal changes and social costs they are likely to bring.

However, the discipline as a whole also needs to become more relevant to the country, and thereby also make itself more visible and valued. Although the current rise in inequalities is global, the differences in national political economies, and in national sociologies suggest that every country must find its own answers – as long as global implications and consequences are also considered. What follows is my attempt to suggest a more detailed scenario, or a vision of where American sociology should be headed.

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Povertyby Rebecca Vallas

Across the country, legal services attorneys play a largely hidden but essential role as first responders to American poverty. The family facing foreclosure after falling behind on the mortgage when both Mom and Dad lost their jobs in the recession. The mother of three, fleeing domestic abuse, who desperately needs a protective order to keep herself and her children safe. The woman with stage four cancer and six months to live, who has been wrongfully denied Social Security and Medicare. Without legal services, they would have nowhere to turn.

Day in and day out, legal services attorneys fight for the rights of poor individuals and families, providing legal help to people who cannot afford an attorney. Access to representation is vitally important.  But as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, it’s time to renew the vision of legal services as antipoverty work.

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The Rise of the Permanent Temp Economy

By Erin Hatton

(This article was originally published in the New York Times. The original version can be read here: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/26/the-rise-of-the-permanent-temp-economy/?emc=eta1)

Kelly girl

Politicians across the political spectrum herald “job creation,” but frightfully few of them talk about what kinds of jobs are being created. Yet this clearly matters: According to the Census Bureau, one-third of adults who live in poverty are working but do not earn enough to support themselves and their families.

A quarter of jobs in America pay below the federal poverty line for a family of four ($23,050). Not only are many jobs low-wage, they are also temporary and insecure. Over the last three years, the temp industry added more jobs in the United States than any other, according to the American Staffing Association, the trade group representing temp recruitment agencies, outsourcing specialists and the like.

Low-wage, temporary jobs have become so widespread that they threaten to become the norm. But for some reason this isn’t causing a scandal. At least in the business press, we are more likely to hear plaudits for “lean and mean” companies than angst about the changing nature of work for ordinary Americans.

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The New York Times’s Economix Blog had a post on Friday that summarized some interesting new polling data from Gallup. In light of our recent panel on the gender wage gap and the role of “choice” in individual decision making around staying at home vs. working, I thought it would be good to share some quick highlights here.

Among the most interesting findings is that stay-at-home moms reported higher rates of worry, sadness and depressed emotions than their employed counterparts (both with and without children).


This varies by income level, with mothers in households that earn less than $36,000 annually expressing higher rates of worry and stress than their employed peers.

My take away is not that being a stay-at-home mother is intrinsically bad for your mental health. Rather, it may be that the stressors associated with being a stay-at-home mother are such (for some women) that their mental health suffers in comparison to their employed peers. These stressors are likely complicated phenomena with a diverse range of etiologies. Unfortunately, the Gallup report does not go into any follow-up questions that were asked, so we aren’t given a good picture as to why women felt this way.

A couple caveats – these are self reported mental health evaluations, not evaluations by mental health professionals. They are also only descriptive statistics, with no included difference of mean measures or the like. Gallup reports that these data are drawn from a sample n of 60,000 and have a maximum margin of sampling error of +/- 1% (95% confidence).

Adam Davidson is a co-founder of NPR’s Planet Money, a team of economics reporters that produces podcasts and segments for various NPR shows and the extraordinary weekly public radio show, This American Life. Davidson and his Planet Money team have produced some of the most penetrating and informative reporting on contemporary finance. Indeed, their reporting on finance is unrivalled, serving to demystify the murky world of derivatives, mortgage backed securities, credit default swaps and the like for a broad public audience – in the process playing a critical role for democratic debate.

And Davidson can really tell a good story. So good that he has recently been given a new platform for a news analysis, his It’s the Economy column for The New York Times Magazine. Unfortunately, since Davidson has turned from reporting on finance to news analysis focusing on the wider economy, he has increasingly traded the rich journalism that made his name – carefully and clearly explaining the esoteric workings of the financial world through first-rate investigative reporting – for commentaries on the broader economy that present embarrassingly thin analyses based on the oversimplified fantasy world of textbook economics and recycled tropes of American exceptionalism.

Davidson’s fascination with mainstream Economics got the better of him again in last weekend’s Magazine column, in which he praises the entrepreneurial efficiency of an alleged craft revival. Based on a couple of interviews with “successful entrepreneurs” making hand-crafted beef jerky or precision manufactured components,  Davidson argues that a new breed is following “what seems like an ancient business model: making things by hand,” rejecting “the high-volume, low-margin commodity business.”

But, we learn, “the craft approach is actually something new — a happy refinement of the excesses of our industrial era plus a return to the vision laid out by capitalism’s godfather, Adam Smith.” The craft revival is a further realization of the Smithean division of labor, a new round of efficiency improvements based on “hyperspecialization.” Indeed, so efficient is the American economy that “the average American leads a shockingly good life by any historical or international standard” and “Huge numbers of middle-class people are now able to make a living specializing in something they enjoy, including creating niche products for other middle-class people who have enough money to indulge in buying things like high-end beef jerky.”

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