Image from P T via Flickr Creative Commons
Image from P T via Flickr Creative Commons

The US federal minimum wage has been a hot topic in 2013, starting with President Obama’s proposal in February to increase the federal minimum wage to $9/hour. Then, over the summer, McDonald’s was the source for national ridicule after releasing a financial planning document for its workforce that suggested employees would need to work two full-time entry level jobs in order to pay for basic monthly expenses. Most recently, thousands of fast food workers from across the nation went on strike to increase the federal minimum wage to $15/hour. Is living on a minimum wage income really that tough? And if it is, why is it so difficult to simply increase it?

In most cases, living off a minimum wage income is simply not feasible, especially for single parents.
Much of the reluctance to increase the minimum wage stems from the fear that higher wages would force companies to raise prices and hire fewer employees. However, these anxieties are largely unfounded.

Sixteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai, shot by the Taliban for protesting the exclusion of girls from school in Pakistan, recently met with Queen Elizabeth II and other international leaders to promote girls’ education. Her advocacy reminds us that gender inequality in education is not limited to developing countries, but one that affects women worldwide.

In industrialized countries, female students have gained in some aspects of schooling, but the gender divide limits women’s educational opportunities as well as their roles in the home, the workforce, politics, and religion.

Last week atheist bloggers expressed their frustration when Oprah Winfrey suggested that distance-swimmer Diana Nyad’s atheism wasn’t really atheism. Op-eds from authors in the secular community reminded us that atheists appreciate lots of wonder in the world, and warned about stereotypical views of non-religious people. A few pieces of sociological work can also help explain the weight of her words.

Americans already hold negative opinions about self-identifying atheists, and many say atheists “don’t agree with their vision of American society.”
Oprah’s fame makes her a “moral entrepreneur”— someone with the power to define who the insiders and outsiders are in society. This makes her opinions more likely to influence viewers’ misunderstandings about atheism.

Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was recently sentenced to 28 years in prison after being convicted of two dozen federal charges including racketeering, extortion, and the filing of false tax returns. Judge Nancy G. Edmunds recently told CNN that although she wasn’t holding Kilpatrick responsible for Detroit’s bankruptcy, “a long prison sentence is necessary to insulate the public from his behavior.” Whether conviction alone is enough to restore public trust and put an end to white collar crime is still an open question.

Who commits white-collar crime and why? Classical criminology shows how the answers have changed over time.
Current work suggests that political and economic corruption often happens through collaboration, and that we shouldn’t treat the two as separate issues.

With the recent nomination of Janet Yellen as chairman of the Federal Reserve, a variety of news coverage has focused on the lack of women at high levels in finance or even with the necessary credentials – a PhD in economics. Why aren’t there more women in such positions? Sociologists find evidence for several barriers women encounter along the way.

Fewer women tend to choose highly competitive, male-dominated professions such as economics, finance, or engineering
When they do join these fields, women often encounter discrimination at all levels of career progression
Some women leave these professions after they have children because they lack the support to meet both work and family demands.

It’s Columbus Day! In 1492 he sailed the ocean blue and—well—historians, sociologists, and even web comic artists have been reminding us for a while now that he didn’t really “discover” America, so much as find the native peoples who were already living there. So, how does the narrative of Columbus day (or any other story in our history textbooks) keep coming up the same way year after year?

Columbus’ voyage isn’t the only historical story we tend to get wrong in the classroom.
These stories aren’t just mistakes, though. They represent political controversies that have raged in the American history curriculum for years.

In a recent report from Al Jazeera America on his first major interview, Pope Francis raises concerns that the Catholic Church needs to change its political priorities if it doesn’t want to “fall like a house of cards.” He argues that the church is focusing too heavily on “narrow” issues like gay marriage and abortion when it should be fostering a more inclusive message. Is this a new and necessary direction for Catholic politics in the United States, or just a flash in the pan?

Pope Francis may be right about church collapse. Many Americans choose not to affiliate with religion for political reasons.
It also isn’t just political. Narrow theological views on issues like gender and sexuality have an effect on who comes to Mass every week.
This isn’t the first shift, though, new leaders and changes in society have a long history of altering the church’s politics.
Plenty of organization for change can emerge from the church’s membership as well. Not all the discontented leave!

A recent report from the New York Times tells us that Washington may be loosening the leash on mortgage lenders, but a range of research from sociologists over the last five years suggests that there were actually multiple problems that led to the 2008 housing crash, and they weren’t all about financial regulation alone.

Modern mortgages arose when homeownership was politically popular.
Politicians often used economic policy to “punt” unpopular political conflict.
Subprime lending didn’t just take advantage of the poor—it was also a racial problem.