As we approach the “Season of Giving,” when Americans are particularly inclined by the Christmas spirit – and also by the looming deadline for tax-deductible contributions – to share with the needy, we again consider the American way of helping the poor. This time last year, I noted some of the peculiarities of the American way of private charity: how arbitrary it can be, how dependent on the tastes of individual givers, how much it is a matter of noblesse oblige rather than human rights. A post a couple of years before that pointed out that government care for the unfortunate has been grudging and judgmental going back to colonial times, although it became more expansive over the generations. Here, I focus on Americans’ distinctive principle that needy recipients must be deserving of help, on our disdain for The Undeserving Poor (the title of Michael Katz’s important historical study.)
The impetus for this post is the dust-up, at least in the liberal blogosphere (e.g. here), around a comment by Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) on food stamps. When challenged on Facebook by a constituent to defend the Christian morality of his vote for cutting the program, Cramer’s posted reply was to cite 2 Thessalonians 3:10: “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” Cramer also asked, “When did America become a country where working for benefits is no longer noble?” Whatever the substantive concerns around the food stamp program (e.g., here) and whatever the facts about recipients working – by far most of the able do indeed work – a question arises: Why do we care if they work?
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Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged food stamps, poverty, self-reliance |
As Bay Area residents have known for a while and as readers of The New York Times just read and NPR listeners just heard, much of downtown San Francisco real estate is being snapped up by young, hip, affluent workers in the information technology industry. The Facebook-Apple-Google-Etc. folk are willing to commute long distances to their desks in Silicon Valley – albeit in special, wired, comfort buses. Some tech firms have moved into or expanded office space in the City, most notably Twitter, in part for clear business reasons, but in large measure, it seems, because their employees live nearby. The effects on housing are evident. (A San Francisco blogger several months ago listed the reasons “all my friends are moving to Oakland.” Included were “Divis [Divisadero Street] is clogged with Google buses” and “The [Oakland] landlords aren’t looking for ways to kick you out. You won’t have to have six roommates. You won’t get outbid for a room by some dot-com f***face.”)
Tech workers await bus in S.F. (source)
That thousands of well-heeled buyers and renters are choosing inner-city San Francisco — as many others are choosing inner-city New York or Chicago — illustrates a trend that has been going on for quite a while and that has been accentuated by the Great Recession: affluent Americans moving and segregating themselves to pursue the lifestyles they associate with particular places.
In a previous post, I pointed out the widening differences between metropolitan areas by social class and the increasing segregation, since at least the 1960s, between urban neighborhoods by residents’ income. Here I review a few new studies on a byproduct of these trends, separation by cultural taste. One take-away is that America’s widening economic inequality is being more deeply inscribed on the residential landscape. Another is that in age of jet travel, instantaneous communications, and 3-D downloads, an age just a bit short of Star-Trek beaming, where Americans live seems to matter to them more, not less.
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Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged mobility, neighborhoods, segregation |
See that cute critter on the right here; it’s an eastern gray squirrel in what seems to be its natural habitat – near a tree, on a garbage can, in a town.
The squirrel, so ubiquitous in eastern cities, seems to have been around forever. In fact, Etienne Benson tells us in the December issue of the Journal of American History, the city squirrel is a relatively modern product of nineteenth-century environmentalists’ desires to bring nature, in the form of the country squirrel, to city people – so much a desire that they had to do it twice in thirty years.
Today’s environmentalists see the squirrel’s move to the bright lights as a big mistake. We can see it as another case of Americans’ repeated reshaping of the natural environment — here not for the usual economic reasons, but for moral uplift.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged environmentalism, nature, squirrels |
Atheists are getting evangelical and congregational, bemused press reports would have it. There are the international bus ad campaigns – “Why believe in a God? Just be good for goodness’ sake,” in the U.S., and “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life” in Richard Dawkins’ Britain. More recently, a global effort, perhaps tongue in cheek, landed in the U.S. to provide “Sunday Assemblies” with the music and the community of churches, leaving out the God of churches (here and here). Then, there is the Chicago ceremony that “christened” babies Carl, Heinrich, and Martha in a totally irreligious (and socialist) ceremony. Oh, but that happened in 1884.
Flier: Haymarket Rally (Source)
Historian Bruce Nelson’s article on ir- and anti-religious working-class movements in late 19th-century Chicago, as well as other research, serves to remind us that widespread irreligiosity, aggressive anti-religious social movements, and even fiercely secular instituions are not new.
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Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged anarchists, atheism, religion |
Every time I cash in on being (just barely) a senior citizen – at the movie line, on the subway, for example – I feel a twinge of guilt. The elderly, on average, can better afford such items than can young adults, especially those raising small children. Yet the system of discounts for age, like much else these days – say, Medicare vs. Medicaid – is slanted toward seniors. The logic is rooted in an earlier time.
Back in the day – say, before the ’60s – the assumption was that most old people could make it through their sunset years only with financial and personal help from their grown children. In last few decades, the flow of money and of energy has been largely going the other way (see earlier post).
In two new overview papers (pdf and pdf), sociologists Judith Seltzer and Suzanne Bianchi document the help many American seniors are giving their adult children long past the school years, be it directly with money or through help such as babysitting. (Bianchi, a terrific scholar of American family life, passed away recently, much too soon.) Among the less well-off, parents might largely help by re-opening a bedroom at home or providing after-school care. One study found that about 3 of 10 pre-schoolers are with grandparents when the parents are at work. Among the most affluent, parental help can include buying 20-somethings their own Manhattan apartments (see here and here).
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Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged children, family, parents |
My attention was recently drawn to the topic of cell phones and not just because … hold on a sec … um, no messages … of the phone sitting next to my keyboard, but because I was reading two books … wait, what’s the ball score? … No change … where was I? …. oh, yeah, two books – Rainie and Wellman’s Networked and Doron and Jeffrey’s The Great Indian Phone Book – and a few other items on the topic. Cell phones have spread across the globe faster and deeper than any other technology. Understanding why and with what consequence is a new frontier in social science research.
The mobile or cell phone emerged around 1980; almost no one had one. As late as 2000, there was about one cell phone subscription for every 12 human beings in the world; this year, there is about one subscription for every single human being. This must mean something. The latest Sunday New York Times Book Review presented the intriguing thoughts of many novelists on the question of what the advent of internet devices did to story-telling. The new technologies have blown up a number of plot lines – hero stranded, boy and girl unable to re-find one another, mysterious stranger comes to town, and so on. Get on your phone! Send a text! Google him! What’s the problem?
Some interesting and perhaps unexpected findings are coming out of research into the sociology of cell phones. One finding is that, however cell phone obsessed we think we are … um, did I just hear a buzz? Is that for me? … Americans are mobile laggards.
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Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged cell phones, internet, relationships |
One of the motifs in writings about modern life is that its central features – commerce, education, secularism, and especially science – have “disenchanted” the world. Once, goes the argument, the rising of the sun, the awakening of plants, people’s illnesses and recoveries, and even odd rock formations were all infused with spirits and mystery; now we see all of them as mechanical, mundane, and manipulable. The magic is gone.
Maybe. As we approach Halloween, note that most American adults in the 21st Century say that they believe in life after death and in the devil; over one-third say that they believe in the spirits of the dead coming back; about that many also say they believe in haunted houses. In the 1980s and ‘90s, about 4 in 10 said that at least once they had “felt as though [they] were really in touch with someone who had died.”
Lest you think this is all just a vestige of an older, passing, superstitious age: Belief in ghosts has soared in recent decades, from one in ten Americans to one in three. Moreover, young Americans are about twice as likely as old Americans to say they have consulted psychics, believe in ghosts, and believe in haunted houses. (Oh, and political liberals are more likely than conservatives to endorse these beliefs.) 
It’s a magical nation. And that goes back a long time.
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Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged ghosts, occult, superstition |