« November 2010 | Main | February 2011 »

December 10, 2010

From One American to Another:"What did you do to get so poor? Must have been something..."

Sample of Paper 3 by K. Nelson - Fall 2010

Democracy does not guarantee equality of conditions - it only guarantees equality of opportunity. Irving Kristol

The unequal distribution of wealth in the United States is a condition that remains unchallenged by many, if not the majority, of citizens. The existence of "haves" and "have nots" has become an accepted reality and, going beyond economics, is often used as a way to judge the moral fiber of a person. We live in a relatively young country that boasts of unlimited opportunity for the individual to fill any role that they desire. Our society grants respect to individuals who manage to to amass material wealth, recognizing wealth as a reward for hard work. How does this affect the beliefs and behavior of the people affected by this system and continue to reinforce the gap between rich and poor Americans?

People across the United States and in many cultures have internalized the concept of wealth reflecting worth and now use material wealth as a method to prove self-value to those around them. Sociologist Thorstein Veblen described the "eagerness to show off wealth by the elaborate consumption of goods" with the term "conspicuous consumption" (Henslin). The very ability to display wealth has been made easier with the existence of excess material items. As humans develop more efficient methods of production, we are able to manufacture more items which can be displayed and consumed. The ability to make things cheaply also allows for higher quality items to be mimicked. An example of this would be fashionable handbags made by designers and intended for the elite. Many people who are not able to afford a higher quality, designer item opt to buy a cheaper imitation, creating the illusion of being wealthy enough to buy the original item. Additionally, Americans have become accustomed to living beyond their means by accruing a certain level of "acceptable" debt. If it is possible to display wealth that you don't actually have through buying imitations or using a credit card, the basis for judging a person's abilities or character based on apparent wealth becomes quite subjective.

In order to address the issue of equal opportunity, let us assume that people are only displaying the wealth that they actually have. If wealth is treated as an authentic indication of hard work, one must buy into the rhetoric that our nation is one of equal opportunity. "...Americans know that anyone who really tries can get ahead. In fact, they believe that most Americans, including minorities and the working poor, have a better-than-average chance of getting ahead--obviously a statistical impossibility" (Henslin). We are under the impression that our systems allows ample opportunity for success and upward mobility. However, due to social gender bias, classism, racism, and many other social constructs, the conditions under which we compete to "get ahead" are clearly not the same for every individual.

An inequality that shows up across racial, geographic and class lines that can easily be identified and as well as quantified, is the difference in pay based on gender. Salary disparities between men and women have been recognized for decades. In the past, this could be attributed to women working fewer hours outside of the home or being less likely to enter a "masculine" field, such as law or dentistry, which tend to be higher paying. However, as the distinction between "masculine" and "feminine" fields is broken down as a result of younger people opting into careers that might not seem to align with their gender, there are other explanations required. In an article "Even Female Law Partners Suffer Wage Disparities," the highest ranking female attorneys are shown to earn $66,000 less than male counterparts, a discrepancy that started out as a $2,000 difference during time spent as entry level associates (Ellison). Paying women less than men indicates a belief that work done by women is less valuable, and because our culture places huge significance of personal worth on the ability to generate wealth, one might draw the conclusion that women are less valued by society.

The gender pay gap is a product of our culture, not solely created and re-enforced by men. Several recent studies have shown that when asked to women give a salary range they should be entitled to, they gave lower figures than the men, essentially expecting to be paid a smaller salary (Hogue) . This trend is not confined to the United States, British professor, Marilyn Davidson, of "Why XX must thing like XY to earn more K" examines both the pay expectations of men and woman as well as the differences in negotiating starting salaries or raises. She finds that women envision a smaller salary and are less likely to negotiate salary than men, who feel entitled to a salary 25% greater than the amount offered up by the women (Davidson). This difference in entitlement may play a role in supporting the continuation of the gender pay gap-- according to Henslin, this gap will amount 1.3 million dollars over a lifetime. It is necessary to recognize that because women as a group are receiving lower pay, earning less money cannot be a reflection of the ability or effort put forth by women as individuals.

Using personal wealth as a way to judge a person's motivation or the moral fiber of a person is dangerous because it allows one to assign blame to the individual rather than the system. This goes back to the American belief of "you get what you deserve." We can more easily emotionally distance ourselves from the suffering of another person by assuming that their actions leading up to the poor conditions must be reflected by their current condition. I chose to use the gender pay gap as an example of social inequity because we all, regardless of our race, class, educational level or political affiliation, are able to witness this inequity firsthand and perhaps better relate to it when it is experienced by someone close to us. The gender pay gap can also be used as a tool of comparison for the general disparities in wealth. Recognition of the social inequities that create economic inequities is crucial to moving away from placing moral judgments based on an individual's wealth or lack thereof.

It is my hope that by recognizing that being poor is not necessarily the fault of the individual but more likely a product of a broken system, there will be increased empathy that will translate into social programs and policy change. The United States has a particular challenge in changing this school of though due to our nation's main culture "rags to riches" myth and also because our population is so incredibly diverse. When a society is starkly divided along racial or ethnic lines, the affluent are less likely to take care of the poor (Gudrais). If Americans are able to see beyond social divisions and make an effort to stop "othering" the poor, perhaps we can begin to break down systemic discrimination that perpetuate a massive wealth gap in our country.

Everyone is kneaded out of the same dough but not baked in the same oven. ~Yiddish Proverb

Resources
Davidson, Marilyn "Why XX must think like XY to earn K" BBC. 5/14/2009.

Ellison, Jesse. "Even Female Law Partners Suffer Wage Disparities" Newsweek. 07/09/2010.

Hogue,M., J.D. Yoder, et al. (2007). "The Gender Wage Gap: An Explanation of Men's Elevated Wage Entitlement." Sex Roles 56(9-10): 581-590

Henslin, James M. 2009. Essentials of Sociology A down-to-Earth Approach. Allyn and Bacon: Boston MA

December 6, 2010

The Dying Middle Class in America

Excellent example for paper 3 by Sarah Fulcher - Fall 2010

In today's world it's hard to get by. There have been many who have lost their homes and jobs do to nothing more than a failing economy. Since the fall of the United States' economy the unemployment rate has hit a high at 9.6 percent as of November 5, 2010 (Month). With so many individuals being down and out many have had to downsize and tighten the belt. The bankruptcies claims have increased by 20 percent in the last year (U.S.) and many have had to move out of the homes that they have had for years. With all of these statistics it has lead many into poverty. Individuals who once considered themselves to be middle or even upper middle class have found themselves with a new title, poor.

Throughout the history of the United States or any country for that matter, there has always been a hierarchy of socialization that is social stratification. (Henslin) With an astonishing almost 7 billion people on this earth (International) there has always been a way to sort everyone out and put them in some sort of ranking. Whether it be by sex, race or social class we have always fit in to some sort of group.

Many would argue that the one of the most impactful aspect of someone's life would be their social class. In the United States there has always been some tier of the general social classes, the rich, the middle class, and the poor. Amongst these groups there are a few extra, more specific groups but in general there are the three, but as we continue down the road there seems to be an alarming new trend. With so many struggling to make ends meet the middle class seems to be disappearing. Many wonder how this could be. How is it that a social class that has been around for ages can just disappear? The answer is an interesting one created by selfishness and an unruly economy that won't let up its death grip around the throat of the American people.

When it comes to the different levels of social classes the idea of property, power, and prestige are what ranks us. Those of us that tend to have more of these things are higher on the class scale and those who have less are lower on the class scale. This system has seems to work for years and still does to this day but on a much different scale. Before there was always that group that sat in the middle of the rich and the poor. They don't have a whole lot of property, power or prestige but they have more than some which betrothed the title "middle class." While this was good for most and being middle class was a great place to be for the majority of the group over the past five to seven years the middle class has taken a drastic fall.

With the bourgeoisie out sourcing work to third world countries and the power elite pushing the free trade agreement many of the middle class have found themselves having to fight for their jobs that once seem to be a given. The average time to find a job now a days in the U.S. is 35.2 weeks (Plourde). With so many individuals willing to work for next to nothing on the other side of the world and with no benefits it makes it easy to outsource the work. So the CEO of the company goes home to his million dollar home the proletariat struggle on simply trying to find away to get home.

Let's take a closer look at these CEO and those who would be considered rich and what their effect on the middle class is. As the rich get richer the middle class starts to fall farther and farther down the rung. In 2009 even with the fall of the economy the number of millionaires rose 16 percent; wall the need for government assistants also went up to 40 million people needing food stamps and raising (Plourde). The only assumption here is that the majority of these people filling for food stamps are those who have not had them before. That being individuals who were middle class families or individuals. To add to this between 2001 and 2007 66 percent of the income growth went to the top 1 percent of all Americans (O'Doherty). This only adds to the frustration of the middle class, knowing that there is money being made but that it is going to the individuals at the top of the social classes. To add insult to injury these CEO and big fortune companies are making their money off the middle class by selling them debt (Warren) and taking advantage of the ones who are trying to keep up with the Joneses. The very institution that was supposed to serve these individuals is the one making money off of them and running them into a lower social class (Warren). The picture of upward social mobility has become a distant memory replaced with downward social mobility in the minds of the middle class.

Along with the greed of the power elite there is simply the fact that the American economy has just not done well over the past few years. This structural mobility has changed many lives. With the cost of primary essentials rising and the rate of wages staying steady (Warren) it seems that the middle class is playing a game of two steps forward and three steps back. Many middle class Americans can't afford to pay there mortgages or minimum payments on their credit card bills. This leads them into foreclosure and/or bankruptcy which will usually lead to falling below the poverty line moving these once middle class Americans into the class of poor. With the poverty rate being 13.2 percent this posses a huge problem for the next few years or even decades for the United States and with the introduction of a new system to determine the families and individuals that fall into poverty this number is projected to rise to 15.8 percent (Haq). These staggering statistics only reinforces the idea that the American middle class could potentially be something of the past.

As the ever growing gap between the social classes grows many wonder what will ever come of the American society? Will we simply be placed into two separate groups? Rich and poor? Or will the middle class come out on the other side stronger and determined more than ever to succeed? With so many back in school and furthering their education it is something that only time can tell. All we can do is wait and hope that we learn from the mistakes we have made in the past.


Works Cited
Haq, Husna. "Who's Poor in America? US Tweaks How It Defines Poverty. - CSMonitor.com." The Christian Science Monitor - CSMonitor.com. 3 Mar. 2010. Web. 06 Dec. 2010. http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2010/0303/Who-s-poor-in-America-US-tweaks-how-it-defines-poverty.

Henslin, James M. Essentials of Sociology. Pearson Custom. Print. A Down-to-Earth Apporach.

"International Data Base (IDB) - World Population." Census Bureau Home Page. 30 Nov. 2010. Web. 30 Nov. 2010. http://www.census.gov/ipc/www/idb/worldpopinfo.html.

Month, By. "Employment Situation Summary." U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 5 Nov. 2010. Web. 30 Nov. 2010. http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm.

O'Doherty, Cahir. "America's Middle Class Is Dying and the Stats Prove It | New, Next, Now! | IrishCentral." Irish News, Entertainment, Politics, Sport, Dating, Ancestry, Culture and Opinion | IrishCentral. 24 July 2010. Web. 06 Dec. 2010. http://www.irishcentral.com/story/ent/manhattan_diary/americas-middle-class-is-dying-and-the-stats-prove-it-99180624.html.

Plourde, Arthur J. "The Middle Class in America Is Dying! | Gold Coast Chronicle." Online News Digest | Gold Coast Chronicle. 26 July 2010. Web. 06 Dec. 2010. http://www.goldcoastchronicle.com/politics/the-middle-class-in-america-is-dying/.

"U.S. Bankruptcy Rate Skyrockets | MyBankTracker.com." Compare Daily Bank Rates, Deals & Reviews MyBankTracker.com. 19 Aug. 2010. Web. 30 Nov. 2010. http://www.mybanktracker.com/bank-news/2010/08/19/us-bankruptcy-rate/.

Warren, Elizabeth. "Elizabeth Warren: America Without a Middle Class." Breaking News and Opinion on The Huffington Post. 3 Dec. 2009. Web. 06 Dec. 2010. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/elizabeth-warren/america-without-a-middle_b_377829.html.

How Advertising Reinforces Racism, Sexism, and Classism

An excellent final paper by Kristen Tatkovski - Fall2010

Every day we are bombarded with marketing - messages doing their best to entice us, the consumer, to buy a particular product or service. It is nearly impossible to avoid. Ninety-nine percent of households own at least one television where a good portion of one's viewing time is filled with commercials (Television & Health). If you are one of the few crafty enough to avoid television commercials, then you are certain to be reached through print ads in magazines or newspapers, on billboards, buildings, buses, park benches, or any other available surface. Most of us have become accustomed to the marketing machine to which we are exposed each day. So much so that we hardly notice the covert, and sometimes overt, messages of racism, sexism, and classism much of advertising conveys.

By far the people portrayed most often in ads are white. One study found that out of 1,251 full-page ads in forty-two magazines, only seven percent represented black people. If you remove the one magazine reviewed that is marketed directly to black people, then the percentage of black people represented falls to roughly five percent (Quijano). What's more, other minority races are represented far less often. According to 2009 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, white people make up sixty-five percent of the U.S. population, yet they are represented disproportionately in advertising (USA QuickFacts).

Not only are people of color grossly underrepresented in ads, but when they are portrayed it is often as an entertainer or athlete. Seldom are they seen as professionals or as middle class families. When you begin to scrutinize commercials, you find that if a person of color is represented, they are often as a secondary character while the primary character is white. Much of the time the only person with a "voice" in the commercial is the white male, while the women and people of color are silenced. I do find exceptions, but these are by far not the rule.

Underrepresentation of people of color, and reinforcement of stereotypes in advertising is harmful to people of color and simply racist. It perpetuates the ideal that the white is the norm, and thus everything else is not the norm. It devalues anyone who is not white which can reinforce prejudices potentially leading to discrimination (Henslin 231).

Also at issue is how women are represented in advertising. Women are almost always portrayed as young, beautiful, thin, and sexy. Rarely do they have a voice in a commercial unless it is for something directly marketed to women such as the newest and greatest mop, or "quick and easy heat and serve meals that will please the entire family." These ideas reinforce gender roles that women are expected to cook, clean, and take care of the children. Even when they are portrayed as professionals, women are seen as having to work their "second shift" when they arrive home from work, figuring out how to get the house clean, dinner on the table, and help with homework all before bedtime. Advertisers are working to undermine any progress the second wave of feminism made. The messages sent to our young girls and boys is that the man is the one with the power, the one with the "voice," and the woman's role is in the home; and if a woman does have her career, it is only on the condition that she still carries out her primary duties as keeper of the home.

Even worse than reinforcing gender roles, is when ads objectify women. Who hasn't seen an ad where a beautiful women, scantily clad, and with pouty lips is standing next to a sports car or a bottle of beer. What exactly is the point of the woman lying naked on a fifth of vodka? And what do bikini models have to do with tires anyway? Evidently advertisers feel the only way to entice men to buy their product or service is to eroticize their marketing. The danger in this is that anytime you objectify someone, you dehumanize them. While it is not to say that marketing is directly responsible for violence against women, it to say that ads contribute to a "cultural climate in which women are seen as things" that is "almost always the first step toward justifying violence" against women (Kilbourne).

Finally, marketing reinforces classist attitudes. Again, we are bombarded with images of middle class families and working professionals. The message is that middle class is the norm and if you are anything less, then you are not worthy. Furthermore, if you buy their product or service then you will become just as worthy as the happy, healthy, attractive, middle class people portrayed in the advertisement. Marketers feed into the insecurities of people who internalize society's classist attitudes and desire to climb the social ladder. They want people to think that if they purchase their product their lives will improve. The message, this time of year especially, is: "Go ahead, buy that new Lexus for your wife for the holidays. Anything less and you are missing out on the true meaning of Christmas."

The average person sees 3,000 ads per day and will spend three years watching television commercials over their lifetime (Kilbourne). It is impossible to think that we are not all deeply affected by advertising. The messages that fill our televisions, magazines, newspapers, and billboards all contribute to social inequalities by reinforcing racist stereotypes, gender roles, and construction of class. We can start to affect change by supporting the companies that promote diversity in their advertising and portray women as equals, and by refusing to patronize the worst offenders - many beer and alcohol companies for starters.

Works Cited


Henslin, James M. Essentials of Sociology: A Down to Earth Approach. 8th Ed. Allyn & Bacon, 2008. eBook.
Kilbourne, Jean. "Killing Us Softly." Speech. .

Quijano, Rachel. "Racism in Advertising." Quijano Advertising. May 2006. Retrieved from the web 4 Dec 2010. .

"Television & Health." California State University Northridge. Retrieved from the web 30 Nov 2010. .

"USA QuickFacts." U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved from the web 5 Dec 2010. .