That’s likely true for a lot of reasons, but one is just coming to light: For many African-Americans, working for the government has provided a gateway to the middle class. “Compared to the private sector, the public sector has offered black and female workers better pay, job stability and more professional and managerial opportunities,” sociologist Jennifer Laird tells The New York Times. The civil service, delivering mail, teaching, operating public transportation, and processing criminal justice have historically provided steady income and opportunities to climb the economic ladder—often without an expensive college degree.
The recession’s recovery has not brought back employment at the local, state, and federal levels, though, and it’s causing struggle in black communities in particular. Population growth has also meant higher competition for ever scarcer public sector jobs. African-Americans once benefitted most from government employment, so cutbacks and layoffs hit them the hardest. Laird describes black government workers’ situation as a “double-disadvantage”:
They are concentrated in a shrinking sector of the economy, and they are substantially more likely than other public sector workers to be without work.
Sociologists are quite familiar with the combination of marginalized identities that can lead to oppression, inequalities, and “double disadvantages.” But can negative stereotypes actually have positive consequences?
Financial Juneteenth recently highlighted a study showing that gay black men may have better odds of landing a job and higher salaries than their straight, black, male colleagues. Led by sociologist David Pedulla, the study sent resumes and a job description to 231 white employers nationwide, asking them to suggest starting salaries for the position. Resumes included typically raced names (“Brad Miller” for white applicants and “Darnell Jackson”) and listed participation in “Gay Student Advisory Council” to imply the applicant’s sexuality. Pedulla found that gay Black men were more likely to receive the same starting salaries as straight white men, whereas gay white men and straight black men were offered lowered salaries.
Pedulla’s findings have sparked a conversation among scholars and journalists about the complexity of stereotypes surrounding black masculinities and sexualities. Organizational behavior researcher and Huffington Post contributor Jon Fitzgerald Gates also weighed in on the findings, arguing that the effeminate stereotypes of homosexuality may be counteracting the traditional stereotypes of a dangerous and threatening black heterosexual masculinity.
In years following the 2008 recession, many Americans are still scrambling to find enough work hours to make ends meet. One emerging trend is “clopening,” when an employee works the closing shift, then opens the same business a few hours later. Piled on top of commuting, trying to get some sleep, and attending to family duties, the few remaining precious hours between shifts are overbooked. That can have negative consequences on health. Sociologist Gerhard Bosch tells the New York Times about the European Union’s required 11-hour rest period between shifts: ““If a retail shop closes at midnight, the night-shift employees are not allowed to start before 11 o’clock the next morning.”
Even though some unions in the United States have negotiated similar required “between shifts” time, there is not yet a national labor law. However, several states have taken steps toward Right to Work laws some hope will alleviate the long, inconsistent hours many employees face.
Some business owners claim that some employees prefer “clopening” to working 9 to 5, pointing, for example, to students with busy daytime class schedules. However, one student worker told the Times that working on the clopening schedule meant quitting his pursuit of a master’s degree—he’d lost focus and developed chronic exhaustion.
…The more they stay the same. That is one conclusion University of Maryland sociologist John Robinson draws from the results of the 2012 American Time Use Survey. Despite the global economic downturn in 2008 and subsequent elevated levels of unemployment in the U.S., the breakdown of how Americans spend their time has changed little over the past five years.
In 2007, Americans reported working an average of 7.6 hours per day. Five years later, in 2012, employed people worked for 7.7 hours each day, while dedicating two hours to chores and five to six hours to leisure (approximately half of that leisure time is spent watching television).
Robinson explained the similar time use as social inertia:
We went through the biggest recession in history, we went through the most economic turmoil. And yet we see very little decline in the time that people spend working.
Other notable statistics include the growing parity in how much time men and women spend more equal amounts of time working, doing housework, and taking part in the leisure activities than they did 50 years ago. Additionally, U.S. citizens are found to be increasingly sedentary. Between leisure time spent in front of the television and sedentary work environments, Americans use little of their time in physical activity.
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?
Think of it like this: Once, workers had unions. Now they have parties.
In the Silicon Valley (and, we’d argue, most other areas), the workday doesn’t stop at 5pm. But working the late shift, writes Chris O’Brien in the Silicon Valley Mercury News, is less about pounding coffee and more about cocktails and socializing—a new form of required labor for the dot-com and post-Internet boom eras. O’Brien looks to the work of sociologist Gina Neff and her new book Venture Labor: Work and the Burden of Risk in Innovative Industries to show how the parties these high tech workers attend (and feel pressured to attend) signal a shifting relationship between work and risk. The basic idea is a key, neoliberal ideal: “individuals… are told success is theirs if they just work hard and network enough.”
Neff told O’Brien that the workers she interviewed reported not wanting to go to the various social functions, but feeling like every time they skipped out, they were further out of the loop of well-known workers on the radar of employers and investors:
One woman Neff interviewed laments that her inability to attend parties after she got pregnant hurt her career: “That’s what derailed my rise. Because a lot of this is about going out and networking a lot and I just stopped.”
And maybe the dot-com boom seems a little out of date, but O’Brien points out that the responsibility for not getting laid off (or bouncing back after a layoff) is increasingly absorbed by workers themselves. It’s on them to always have secondary career options, get their business card into the right hands, and have the right numbers in their phones should they get a pink slip one day. Uncertainty has made hitting the social scene, O’Brien writes, more crucial than ever.
At the American Sociological Association’s Annual Meeting in Denver, researchers presented their on-going research to colleagues in the field. This week, several news sources have covered sociologists’ findings about how events in the lifecourse (like getting married, divorced, or having kids) are related to health issues.
Medical News Today reports on a study by Adrianne Frech and Sarah Damaske, finding that moms who work full-time are healthier at age 40 than are other mothers. Particularly concerning is that the least healthy mothers at age 40 are those who are persistently unemployed or in and out of work, not by choice. Consistent work, these findings suggest, may be good for women’s health.
Co-author Adrianne Frech, Assistant Sociology Professor at the University of Akron in Ohio, told the press, work is good for both physical and mental health, for many reasons:
“It gives women a sense of purpose, self-efficacy, control and autonomy.”
“They have a place where they are an expert on something, and they’re paid a wage,” she added.
NBC News details research conducted by Michael McFarland, Mark Hayward, and Dustin Brown exploring how marriage is related to biological risk factors, such as high blood pressure. They found that women who were continuously married for longer periods of time had fewer cardiovascular risks, whereas women with experiences of divorce or widowhood had increased risk factors.
For women, the researchers found, the longer the marriage, the fewer cardiovascular risk factors. The effect was significant but modest, McFarland said, with every 10 years of continuous marriage associated with a 13 percent decrease in cardiovascular risk.
But when marriage is disrupted, it can be hard on the health. Women who were continuously married had a 40 percent lower count of metabolic risk factors than women who experienced two episodes or divorce or widowhood, the researchers found.
Finally, Deseret News picked up on research presented by Corinne Reczek, Tetyana Pudroyska, and Debra Umberson (also highlighted on Citings&Sightings). Their research found that being in a long-term marriage was associated with more alcohol consumption for women (compared to divorced or recently widowed women). In an interesting contrast, however, married men drink less than other men.
Our survey results show that continuously divorced and recently widowed women consume fewer drinks that continuously married women,” they wrote. “Our qualitative results suggest this occurs because men introduce and prompt women’s drinking and because divorced women lose the influence of men’s alcohol use” when the marriage fails.
As these studies indicate, it is essential to consider how social factors may be related to health outcomes, and sociologists are well positioned to contribute cutting-edge research on these issues.
Just before the dawn of the New Year, Marketplace Money’s Eve Troeh hoped to find some silver lining, or at least an optimistic take, on one thing so many Americans now share: the job hunt. What she really seemed to find in her American Public Media report, though, was that unemployment remains as alienating an experience as it is a common one. And, as USC sociologist Karen Sternheimer explained, it’s a cruddy thing for anyone to go through, including the so-called highly-educated unemployed.
“One of the biggest measures of class is something called ‘occupational prestige’,” said Sternheimer. “Part of our status is based not just on how much money we have or make, but on kind of what other people think of what we do.” As Troeh went on, “When professionals lose jobs, then, [Sternheimer] says we’re more likely to blame them—even though we all know that layoffs in recent years happened across the board.”
Echoing Joe Soss’s comments in the Star Tribune, as covered in Citings & Sightings a couple of days ago, Sternheimer affirmed, “There’s still a lot of antipathy towards people who don’t have jobs. The myth of the American Dream says that you’ve either succeeded or failed based on your own merit.” More surprisingly, though, Sternheimer tells Marketplace Money that “her research on the Great Depression shows that in tough times, we cling more closely to that dream, that our own hard work determines our fate, rather than blame bigger economic forces.” This can result in a lot of blame for everyone’s “bad times” being placed on the unemployed themselves. And when you are the unemployed, the depression and alienation compound.
Etiquette, in fact, is where the radio story ended: “Etiquette expert Peter Post at the Emily Post Institute says relationships get ruined over a job loss. Even generous offers have to be made carefully.” This is to say, just as talking salary isn’t usually palatable for Americans, talking no salary is touchy, too. For more tips and/or commiseration, be sure to check out the full report, available online at American Public Media.
In some circles the social sciences are criticized for “discovering” what common sense supposedly already tells us. But sometimes, societal trends can cause even the experts to scratch their heads. During the recent recession, for example, unemployment rates in the United States rose sharply and many scholars and politicians expected crime rates to follow suit. According to recently released FBI crime statistics, though, they haven’t.
Violent crimes have fallen 6.4 percent in the last year while property crimes dropped 3.7 percent. Plus, last year’s crime decrease was just a continuation of a downward pattern since 2008; since 1991, the homicide rate has fallen 51 percent and property crimes dropped by 64 percent.
When this data went public, news sources like National Public Radio, the LA Times, and MSNBC.com looked to see how experts in criminology reacted to the findings. Richard Rosenfeld, professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and former president of the American Society of Criminology, was, “surprised by the overall decline in both violent and property crime during and since the recent recession.” He went on, “I’ve studied crime trends in relation to economic conditions for some time, and the 2008-09 recession is the first time since WWII that crime rates have not risen during a substantial downturn in the economy.” Many, including Rosenfeld, attribute some of the decline to smarter policing, but admit that can’t account for all of it, since in many places policing hasn’t changed much in the past ten years or during the recession.
Franklin Zimring, a criminologist and UC Berkeley law professor, was also a puzzled to see a decline in crime during the last three years when incarceration rates have stalled and the economy has soured. “By both the left- and right-wing leading indicators we should be in a lot of trouble—except [we’re] not,” Zimring maintains. “Everything we thought we knew are deeply challenged by events by the last three years.” In an email written to msnbc.com, Zimring does, though, suggest one possible factor affecting this decline: Inflation. “High rates of inflation are connected with high crime rates, so when inflation drops we should expect corresponding declines in crime, in the first instance property crime.”
Although bewilderment in the face of a crime decline is a relatively good problem to have, most scholars and public officials still agree on the importance of getting to the bottom of what’s causing it—particularly if it might be replicable.