Economic Sociology Term Paper

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Social focus on the jobless poor neglects the laboring class who labor on despite horrendous and irksome conditions. Social scientists generally ignore this working class for, after all, they have employment, but Newman (2000) demonstrates that they struggle against mighty odds and constitute a great population of our society. Many of us, although fortunate in attending school, could easily be in their situation. We are, perhaps, a niche above, but the route to becoming one of these 'working poor' is not so distant.

Specifically, in times of recession when job unemployment is a regularity, or outsourcing has become more frequent (jobs relocating in search of cheap labor and resources) with fewer market opportunities and discrimination becoming more common, slipping into the category of the working poor is more facile and can, unfortunately, be more easily achieved. For the working class, without education, their situation is even more desperate; they seem to have nary a chance of being sucked back into the economy were the national economic situation to brighten.

The conditions of these working poor are tough: they occupy marginal jobs that pay poorly and offer little hope of advancement; unable to win their way to private health insurance, they are not eligible for Medicaid; jobs are often temporary; child care is a luxury they have to pay for; and when you consider single parents and individuals who lack family resources to assist them, the picture becomes even more bleak (Newman, Preface, xiii).

When assessing the conditions of the working class, two sides of the coin (or more) can be looked at. There are books on the market that criticize the American nation for their economic conditions and for inserting the working poor into such situations; whilst other books obliquely imply that this class can do better would they try harder or think harder or be more innovative and so forth. The laboring individuals are trying hard enough, and, as many of the 300 individuals that Newman and her students interviewed stated and demonstrated, they cannot try harder. These books, I generally find, have little knowledge of economic conditions and are written mostly from a privileged, upper-class perspective (generally from someone who has had the easy route to a university education). Still other materials paint a bleak picture of this laboring class anchoring the picture in a more or less irredeemable position. The uniqueness of Newman's perspective is that she is somewhat optimistic. Whilst her scenarios are bleak and heartrending, as for instance that of Jamal, and troubling as for instance with Jarvis, Newman focuses on the endurance, resilience, and strength of these people, and by doing so left me inspired.

There are times when one feels angry and discouraged, chaffing at the injustice of it all -- how some simply due to their privileged state can make it so easily, whilst others, due to bigotry (as, for instance, with Kathy) and/or fate ceaselessly, unremittingly, and inevitably suffer. As is the situation with many of my colleagues, for instance, simply due to the fact that I was born in a privileged family (they worked for me not I) enabled me to attend college and my connections and degree will likely procure for me employment as will my family, with their status, assets, connections, and capital, help me along. Life conditions -- those that I was born into -- already elevated me. When I chaff about the difficulties of college -- these difficulties are minor compared to those born on the brink of homelessness who might yearn for the one or more classes that I can so easily attend. My difficulties are naught to theirs. I have hope in my life; they seem to have little or none. And the marvel here is that Newman finds some bright light in their existence and injects glimmers of optimism in an otherwise bleak situation.

The old adage "it takes money to make money" is a fact of life for those who start with little or no wealth and is a fact of life for many of the case histories in the book.

Many people in modern societies believe that it is possible for anyone to reach the 'top' through hard work and persistence. Yet, the situation is not so simple.

The child who criticized 'Kim' for working at (Burger Barn) telling her that she had to work there since "You can't get a better job. ...' was wrong and had, no doubt, heard this adage from others. Kim reported that she "was upset and everything. I started crying. (My manager) was like, 'Kim, don't bother with him. I'm saying, you got a job. You know. It is a job.'" (Newman, 160) yet these kind of jobs remain on rock-bottom and delimit the employee from elevating herself and procuring the necessary education that would lift her on to the next 'rung'.

Even those who manage to get some sort of education for themselves often end up in the cheapest of schools and with inadequate and crippling education. If education is the route to wealth, (as Newman notes..) their chances for succeeding are slim. More so, and this is in all societies including American society, people born in wealth are handed their family assets and inheritance giving them a step up the ladder. People in working classes lack this rung.

People with the McJob conditions of employment that Newman describes have retained jobs at the same place, often for many years, with raises that may not exceed one dollar (41). Critics condemn a lack of labor and perseverance. Yet if this is not perseverance or labor, what else is 'Juan', another case history in the book, supports himself; his mother; her young children; his ex-girlfriend; their young son all on his 'Burger barn' income. He receives no promotion; no rise -- and he continues to work

Jamal (chapter 1), another instance, shares a home with five other families. All share the only kitchen and quarrel about the food supplies squirreled away in the refrigerator. The plumbing breaks down; windows are cracked and broken; heat is meager; and the landlord inconsiderate. Rats are frequent, discord common, privacy non-existent -- and Jamal is only 22. Doing a full shift at 'Burger Barn' for $4.25 an hour, Jamal regularly earned $25 daily with $34 on a good day -- but his manager was reluctant to provide him with enough of these 'good day's. Jamal is bright, perceptive, and intelligent with the brains to get places. Yet, he has not been accorded the chance and he knows that he never will:

The fact that he could speak so articulately and forcefully about the world he lives in and write his heart out in the diary he kept for me for over a year, told me that such a fate was a waste of a young man who could have switched places with any number of my students had his biography been different ( Newman, 6).

Kathy lost her mother's help for marrying a Black man, and both lacking the necessary parenting skills, and unable to deal with their colicky daughter, lost their daughter to Social Security who placed her in foster care. The couple is still determined to get Tammy back, but their crippling situation seems to make this a discouraging miasma.

The 300 interviewees living in Harlem and working for minimal wages in the 'Burger Barn' restaurants -- considered by many as extremely low status employment -- were found by Newman and her students to be hardworking and proud in situations that would have made others quit long ago. There was no lack of endurance and courage here.

Some of those interviewed, themselves seemed to believe the myths that sufficient work and courage would haul them on the next level. They parrot these myths to console themselves, to 'educate' the next generation, and to prod them to more intense results.

It is true that intergenerational mobility whilst still difficult to attain may be more existent now than before.. At the turn of the century there were only several thousands of people worth a million dollars or more in the United States. With the information revolution and globalization, there are millions of millionaires and even billionaires, several of them high-school dropouts who, allegedly, started out with very little. People have pointed to these outliers and asserted that characteristics such as hard work, perseverance, resilience, and intelligence can crack through the gap. People (working class included) usually point to a Bill Gates, high school dropout cum millionaire and J.K. Rowling author of the hugely popular Harry Potter series. Yet both started out on rungs, Gates more than Potter in that he came from a moneyed family, the mother collecting for Bill her connections, giving him startup for his business, and Gates, after all, attended a private school. He had the resources and time to devote himself to his hobby and was given access to computers in the first place. Rowling started off with less, but she was a high-school teacher… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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