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Posts Tagged ‘income’

Untangling the Race Gap

Many efforts have been made to explain the persisting black-white gap in economic attainment. It is particularly puzzling because there was considerable progress in closing that gap in the decades after World War II. And then the closing slowed down. The mid-1990s seemed to bring more progress for black employment and wages, but the 21st century – especially the Great Recession – has seen retrograde movement. Moreover, as sociologists Becky Petit and Bruce Western have shown, the standard economic indicators we use, such average income, underestimate the width of the racial gap because they typically ignore the disproportionately high percentage of black men in prison or effectively out of the labor force.[1]

When the General Social Survey asks respondents to choose an explanation for this persisting gap, about half – white, black, and Hispanic – choose blacks’ lower “chances for education” and lower “motivation or willpower” as factors (although about half of blacks and Hispanics also choose the discrimination explanation).[2] Social scientists have explored more complex anayses. The accounts can be sorted into ones that stress the lasting effects of slavery and Jim Crow – often emphasized in this blog; ones that stress current circumstances like remaining discrimination or the suburbanization of jobs; and ones that stress combinations of the two, such as how lacking family wealth makes it harder for youths to go to college just when college-going has become more important.

In a new paper [gated], University of Michigan sociologist Deirde Bloome presents a sophisticated analysis that points to contemporary conditions that have stymied the closing of the black-white gap in family income; it points more to the family part than the income part of family income.

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Male (Job) Insecurity

The long debate over whether America has gotten more economically unequal in the last few decades is over; all but the most recalcitrant acknowledge it. (As a recent New York Times story reported, sharp-eyed salesmen have acted on this reality, increasingly marketing to the top few percent.) The economic argument has now shifted to whether average Americans have nonetheless done all right even as the rich have become super-rich. Here one detects a subtle difference in vocabulary. Defenders of the broadening inequality insist that average family incomes have been nonetheless increasing. They have. Critics of the broadening inequality insist that earnings have been flat or dropping. They have — for men.

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Average American families have been holding steady or getting a bit more affluent because wives have been working more hours to make up for the stagnation in men’s earnings. (I discuss the numbers below.) Now comes a new study that shows the gender gap in another dimension: job tenure.

For years, experts have debated whether American workers were losing their job security. (The usual measure of job security is how long workers stay in a specific job.) Despite widespread concerns, there does not seem to have been a general reduction in job tenure. Now, Matissa N. Hollister and Kristin E. Smith show, in the latest American Sociological Review, that women’s increasing ties to their jobs have masked men’s decreasing ties to theirs — male job insecurity.

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Happiness Happy

An economist I recently lunched with muttered that the flood of research by economists on happiness was making him depressed. Since about 2000, economists have gone on a binge of writing books and articles about how people answer questions such as, “Taken all together, how would you say things are these days—would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?” The news has even reached David Brooks and inspired an mini-screed from The New Republic‘s literary editor about the philistinism of “equation-makers” dealing with “realms of human experience in which their methods have no place.”

What has brought tough-minded economists to the point of studying something so, well, “mushy”? It has to do with the perennial question, Can money make you happy? And there IS an historical connection.

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