From the late 2000s until recently, gas prices were consistently on the rise. A more recent downward slide may have some consequences: though cheap gas prices might be lighter on the wallet, individuals might be at greater risk for car accidents.
In an article from MN-based Star Tribune, Tim Harlow discusses research conducted by Guangqing Chi of the South Dakota State University’s Department of Sociology and Rural Studies. A professor and demographer whose specialties include the sociology of transportation, Chi had studied data on gas prices and overall traffic safety in Minnesota from 1998 to 2007. His team found that “a 20-cent drop in gas prices resulted in 15 more fatalities a year. Conversely, he found that a 20-cent increase would bring a decrease of 15 deaths annually.”
Using similar methodology with study data from Alabama and Mississippi, Chi has found that teens are more impacted by high gas prices, driving less frequently when prices go up. Their road reticence when costs are high, Chi’s study asserts, may lead to safer streets. Beyond driving less often, Chi says, when gas prices rise, “we suspect people drive more carefully.” For now, go ahead and put the pedal to the metal—just, you know, don’t throw all caution to the wind.
One of the most forceful themes in the 2015 State of the Union Address was the need to help working families. President Obama and other progressives argue that implementing policies like guaranteed paid sick leave and child care tax credits will boost the national economy by making it easier for mothers to work. Opponents believe the policies will hurt businesses, damaging job growth and economic recovery.
Sociologists have long studied how the roles of parent and worker intersect, and some of their data and findings are being put to use in this political debate. The New York Times’s Upshot blog highlighted several studies of paid leave policies, including CUNY sociologist Ruth Milkman’s work. Milkman’s analysis supports paid leave and credits for child care—she argues that “For workers who use these programs, they are extremely beneficial, and the business lobby’s predictions about how these programs are really a big burden on employers are not accurate.” Milkman, along with economist Eileen Applebaum, surveyed California firms about whether their costs had increased as a consequence of that state’s paid leave law. 87% of companies said that their bottom line had not suffered, and 9% found that their costs had actually decreased, thanks to lower worker turnover or health benefits payments.
Yet even in California, New Jersey, and Washington, the three states that have, thus far, enacted paid leave laws, many workers don’t know about the policies. State-level political campaigns may change policy, but a broader national discussion must help change workplace cultures to make good on the policies’ promise.
As far as the London School of Economics is concerned, it is time to end the global War on Drugs. According to LSE’s new report, the “War” is a “billion-dollar failure.” The report was signed by five Nobel-Prize winning economists (Kenneth Arrow, Christopher Pissarides, Thomas Schelling, Vernon Smith, and Oliver Williamson), as well as former U.S. Secretary of State George Schultz, British Prime Minister Nick Clegg, and former NATO and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana. Al Jazeera explains:
“The pursuit of a militarised and enforcement-led global ‘war on drugs’ strategy has produced enormous negative outcomes and collateral damage.” Citing mass drug-related incarceration in the US, corruption and violence in developing countries and an HIV epidemic in Russia, the group urged the UN to drop its “repressive, one-size-fits-all approach” to tackling drugs, which, according to the report, has created a $300bn black market.”
The LSE report urges a shift toward evidence-based approaches to illicit drug use: the tremendous resources devoted to the drug war could be diverted to more rigorous analysis and effective policy with “a focus on public health, minimising the impact of the illegal drug trade.”
Until now, there has been little information about the size and scale of the sex economy. Though this report examines only eight cities across the U.S. (notably omitting Las Vegas), is one of the first forays into quantification. Meredith Dank from the Urban Institute told Time magazine,
With knowing the size of the economy, you get better a sense of what you’re dealing with and how big this market is. Law enforcement now knows they can potentially seize $290 million in Atlanta that can be used toward providing services and education.
Beyond what police asset seizures might do for city infrastructure, the studies also point out the enormous numbers of people working in the sex trade. Due to the secretive nature of their work, they may live outside the social systems of taxes, safety net benefits, and healthcare.
For many, the “American Dream” means owning a comfortable home in a nice neighborhood, and that idea brings a certain Mellencamp tune to mind.
The song nods to a deeper point: the history of American housing policy from the New Deal and the G.I. Bill onwards was often defined by who couldn’t get a little pink house. In fact, racial biases among policymakers and bureaucrats made it difficult or impossible for minorities to get support for housing in white neighborhoods (For a great account of this history, see Ira Katznelson’s book When Affirmative Action Was White, or his recent blog post over at The Scholars Strategy Network).
Today’s housing policies may be flipping the script on this story, but not necessarily in a good way.
The Atlantic Cities reports new research from NYU Sociologist Jacob Faber on the 2006 housing bubble that preceded the massive economic crash and kickoff to the U.S. “Great Recession” in 2008. It turns out that during this bubble, in addition to denying home loans to racial minority groups, banks were also targeting minority groups for lower quality loans. The article reports:
Black and Hispanic families making more than $200,000 a year were more likely on average to be given a subprime loan than a white family making less than $30,000 a year… blacks were 2.8 times more likely to be denied for a loan, and Latinos were two times more likely. When they were approved, blacks and Latinos were 2.4 times more likely to receive a subprime loan than white applicants.
Faber adds that the trend doesn’t just deny support to these minority groups, it actually ignores their financial successes.
…this data offers another illustration that middle-class blacks have often not been able to leverage their income status for the same benefits as middle-class whites.
Adam Davidson, of NPR’s “Planet Money,” makes a sheepish confession right at the very start of his latest NYTimes piece: “raising a child in Park Slope, Brooklyn, can bear an embarrassing resemblance to the TV show ‘Portlandia.'” Having trucked his family down to the Brooklyn Baby Expo, Davidson saw everything from plant-resin teething rings to organic-cotton car seat covers (to limit babies’ exposure to manmade fibers). He realized, the baby market is a commodity market, and that’s when he started to feel better:
It’s easy to feel like a sucker once you realize that nearly every dollar you’ve paid over the commodity price is probably wasted. But the process also has enormous benefits for all consumers.
When companies need to compete, they must differentiate, and in the baby market that can mean safety innovations that set the newest standard—possibly inspiring the government to raise safety regulations. Even if you’re not an early adopter of BPA-free bottles, you may soon find that your store brand bottles are BPA-free, just like joovy®“boob baby bottle.” And then everyone’s a little safer, even if that concern is relatively new.
Davidson turns to classic research from sociologist Viviana Zelizer to expand on “The Sippy Cup 1%” and changing childhood:
It might shock the shoppers at Brooklyn Baby Expo, but the idea that everything children touch should be completely safe is a fairly new one. In previous generations—and for most people currently living in poorer countries—having children was an economic investment. Viviana Zelizer, a Princeton sociologist, in her 1985 classic, “Pricing the Priceless Child,” tracked how childhood in America was transformed between the 1880s and the 1930s. During this period, Zelizer says, parents stopped seeing their children as economic actors who were expected to contribute to household finances. Families used to routinely take out life insurance plans on their children to make up for lost wages in the not unlikely event of a child’s death.
But eventually, increased societal wealth, child-labor laws and the significant drop in child mortality led parents to reclassify their children, Zelizer explained, as “a separate sphere, untainted by economic concerns.” This came along with “an increasingly sentimentalized view of children,” in which their comfort and protection can be given no price. Now, for the first time in human history, having a child in the United States is a net financial cost for a parent. This, of course, has been a huge boon to child-product manufacturers. Companies profit from our sentiment with extraneous features. The whole process is prone to produce absurdities like the $4,495 Roddler custom stroller, but the best advances become inexpensively incorporated into everybody’s products. In the end, it really does contribute to making children safer than ever.
“Pomp and Circumstance” is no longer ringing in the rafters at college arenas across the country, and many members of the Class of 2013 are searching for their first post-graduation jobs. One wrinkle: though more than half of those graduates are female, according to a report by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), men working full-time one year after graduation will receive salaries that are 18% higher.
The study pushes back against notions that women’s wages are lower because of decisions now made later in the life course (such as leaving the corporate ladder to have children, for example). Researches found that approximately two-thirds of the pay gap just one year after graduation can be explained by field of study, grades, hours worked, and occupation, but the remaining portion is unexplained—that is, the only commonality is that the people getting the lower salaries are women.
The fact that so much of this pay gap escapes explanation poses a problem for rectifying the situation. Christianne Corbett, a senior researcher with the AAUW and one of the study’s authors, explains:
The pay gap cannot be solved by individual women alone. The bulk of the work has to be done by employers because it’s a systemic problem.
Thinking about moving conjures images of moving up—for a better job, a cooler city, or even that deluxe apartment in the sky. However, a recent article from USA Today paints a much different picture about the reasons people in the U.S. pack up and go.
The report sums up a new analysis of Census data presented by the US 2010 project under the leadership of Brown University sociologist John Logan. It confirms our worst suspicions about the Great Recession: more people are moving down into cheaper housing, having lost their jobs or taken pay cuts. From the article:
“Typically, over the last couple of decades, when Americans moved, they moved to improve their lives,” said Michael Stoll, author of the research and chairman of UCLA’s public policy department. “This is the shock: For the first time, Americans are moving for downward economic mobility. Either they lost their house or can’t afford where they’re renting currently or needed to save money.”
In the face of the data, maybe it’s time to stop humming the theme from “The Jeffersons” and start listening to the words of Billy Joel: “If that’s movin’ up,” well, we’re just “movin’ out.”
It’s a common problem in post-recession America: you hate your job, but you also can’t just up and get a new one. We usually have social options for dealing with this, ranging from commiserating with co-workers in the breakroom to organizing for better working conditions. But if you work in the service industry, where the customer isn’t too keen on knowing you hate your job, bosses can try to bust up the social bandwagon.
A piece for MSNBC’s The Ed Showmakes great use of Arlie Hochschild’s concept of “emotional labor.” The piece gives a handful of examples in which employees, from Starbucks baristas to Wal-Mart greeters, are increasingly burdened with managers’ attempts to regulate how much they demonstrate enjoying their work. The author even quotes one account of employees who could be fired for not touching each other frequently enough!
This raises some fascinating questions for work in the 21st century. We know all social interactions are governed by rules and institutions, but when work is a scarce necessity, do we have the luxury of “doing what we love,” or must we “fake it ‘til we make it”… to a better job?
It seems like there’s never enough time: today’s workplaces demand efficiency and getting more done in less time. Workers cut down on breaks, vacation, and precious sleep. Luckily, Tony Schwartz brings good news in his op-ed for the New York Times:
A new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal—including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations—boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.
In a country where “more than 50 percent [of workers] assume they’ll work during their vacations,” “an average of 9.2 vacation days [go] unused,” and “sleep deprivation costs American companies $63.2 billion a year in lost productivity,” these midday renewals offer much needed relief. Schwartz cites study after study showing everything from a full night’s sleep improving basketball performance to naps improving memory test results and alertness and reaction time among air traffic controllers. Another study found:
Working in 90-minute intervals turns out to be a prescription for maximizing productivity. Professor K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues at Florida State University have studied elite performers, including musicians, athletes, actors and chess players. In each of these fields, Dr. Ericsson found that the best performers typically practice in uninterrupted sessions that last no more than 90 minutes.
Next time you find yourself joking about needing a nap, pull up that carpet square, kindergarten style. Those kids know what they’re up to.