248 posts categorized "Karen Sternheimer"

April 25, 2016

Affordable Housing: An Oxymoron?

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

A few years ago, I had a student who was extremely anxious as the summer approached. While most of her classmates couldn't wait for graduation or summer break, she was scared. She had no family and had no place to live. Her worry about finding short-term housing was preventing her from sleeping at night and she began having difficulty in her coursework.

This is just one example of one of the challenges many people face—and not just students or low-income people. The cost of housing has priced many people out of the rental market, even people with steady incomes. The rental website Zumper lists the average rents in the 50 largest cities in the U.S. In nearly half (22) of these cities, the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment is over $1,000. That's about what a minimum wage earner makes in a month before taxes, assuming they earn the federal minimum wage of $7.25 and work 40 hours a week.

Continue reading "Affordable Housing: An Oxymoron?" »

April 08, 2016

Resume Writing for Sociology Majors

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

What can you do with a degree in sociology?

This is one of the most common questions I get from students thinking about majoring in sociology, and also from those on the verge of graduation. Saying you can do just about anything may be true (I have written letters of recommendation for students to attend law school and medical school, do graduate work in sociology, social work, and criminal justice, as well as jobs in probation, drug abuse counseling, teaching, public relations…the list goes on) but it often doesn't help people who need career guidance.

Prospective employers are looking for specific strengths, and you should tailor your resume to highlight these strengths for each type of position. Don't make the mistake of having one resume filled with your experiences and expect whoever reads it to connect the dots. You need to do that for them.

Continue reading "Resume Writing for Sociology Majors" »

March 21, 2016

Does College Alienate Low Income Students?

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

I teach at a pricey research university. Friends and family—some of whom are alumni— occasionally ask me how much it costs to attend these days. I usually tell them that I don't know; it's easy to forget about the price of tuition when you're not paying it.

So when the Los Angeles Times recently reported that a tuition increase will push the bill for students at my university to over $50,000 for the first time next fall, costing an estimated $70,000 including housing, food, books, and other expenses, I was surprised. A majority of the student body receives some form of financial aid, so not every student must come up with a whopping $280,000 to pay for their degree. When was an undergraduate (at a different expensive private university), I had a scholarship that covered half of my tuition. Coming up with half of the current tuition sounds like an impossible task for most families.

But what about students who do manage to attend a university through financial aid, work study, and scholarships?

Continue reading "Does College Alienate Low Income Students?" »

March 04, 2016

Our Subcultures: Making the Familiar Strange

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Are you part of a subculture, or a group that is a subset of the larger culture that has distinct values, norms, and practices? Chances are good you are and might not even be aware of it, because we become adept at switching between different groups and behaving accordingly, similar to what linguists call "code switching."

Sometimes the norms, values, and practices of a subculture become very apparent when we are new to a group; some people have a difficult time adjusting to a new group, sometimes experiencing culture shock when moving to a new region, attending college far from home, or even beginning a new job in an unfamiliar field.

Author Wednesday Martin describes the process of acclimating to a new subculture in her memoir, The Primates of Park Avenue, about her move from Manhattan's West Village to the Upper East Side, a journey of just a few miles but what she describes as inhabited by a significantly different subculture.

Continue reading "Our Subcultures: Making the Familiar Strange" »

February 15, 2016

Get to Know MoE: Why the Margin of Error Matters

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

If you are following this year's presidential election at all, you have probably heard about various candidates' poll numbers. While on the surface, polls seem like a simple way of describing who is ahead—if your poll numbers are higher than the other person's, you are "winning"—but unless you understand the margin of error it is easy to misinterpret poll results.

Let's say candidate A is polling at 44 percent among likely voters, and candidate B is polling at 42 percent. Candidate A is clearly ahead in a close race, right? Wrong.

Continue reading "Get to Know MoE: Why the Margin of Error Matters" »

February 03, 2016

Happiness as Social Control

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

The pursuit of happiness is so central to what it means to be American that it is part of one of our founding documents, the Declaration of Independence. It is a topic that I pursued informally for many years myself, having read a library's worth of self-help books trying to unlock the mystery of personal fulfillment. I came to some simple conclusions: that to be happy means to enjoy the little things in life, to appreciate the people in our lives, to focus on the present, and to take action steps towards our goals and consider action itself a mark of success, and also to do things that improve our health because feeling good, well, feels good.

I had not considered happiness as a scientific field of study until hearing about social psychologist Daniel Gilbert's work on happiness. Gilbert was inspired by events in his own life—things were not going particularly well for him at one point, and yet he did not feel unhappy. This led to a number of experiments about how well (or as it turns out, how poorly) people predict what makes them happy, which he describes in his bestselling book, Stumbling on Happiness.

Continue reading "Happiness as Social Control" »

January 27, 2016

What are You Wearing?

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Most of us ask this question of others at one time or another. We might ask if we're going to a special event and want to make sure our clothing is appropriate, or we might silently wonder this at the sight of others if we are surprised by their wardrobe choices. Reporters ask celebrities a version of this question during red carpet interviews at award shows.

Clothing is profoundly social—it reflects culture, it might make a statement about a subculture we identify with, about our economic status (or the economic status we hope to project to others), about gender, and about our sense of self. Even if we are not consciously making choices to impress others or to fit in with a group, the clothing options available to us at any given time are produced in a social, cultural, and economic context.

Continue reading "What are You Wearing?" »

December 29, 2015

If I Could Turn Back Time: Regressive Social Movements

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

When you imagine what an activist looks like, what comes to mind? The stereotypical "tree hugger?" A young, idealistic college student? A radical hippie from the 1960s? These are common images we have of activists, but they certainly don't fit all, or even most people involved in social movements.

We often think of social movements as progressive: a push for reform, a call for new ways of looking at an issue, or perhaps an expansion of rights for an oppressed group. But social movements can also be regressive: when people observe a change that has taken place that they feel is harmful, they call for a reversion to what they see as a better past. Rather than the stereotypes of activists mentioned above, activists might better resemble a college student's grandparent.

Continue reading "If I Could Turn Back Time: Regressive Social Movements" »

December 18, 2015

Sociology and Holiday Rituals

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Do you have certain holiday rituals that you look forward to each year, or at least feel compelled to participate in? Sociology provides us with tools for understanding these practices more deeply.

For Emile Durkheim, one of sociology's key nineteenth century thinkers, shared values and beliefs help to form society itself. Emphasizing particular values during end of year holidays like giving, connecting with family and friends through visits, cards, or well wishes serves a very important purpose. He contends that societies are more than just a collective of individuals, but rather people learn to be part of an already-existing society. Holidays aid in this process.

Continue reading "Sociology and Holiday Rituals" »

December 03, 2015

The Sharing Economy Paradox

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

You don’t have to look hard to find invitations to join the “sharing economy:” ads invite us to drive for Uber or Lyft, rent a spare room on Airbnb or sell your wares on eBay. These online services promote easy use for consumers, and a way to make money by working as much or as little as you would like, and on your own schedule.

The “sharing economy” is not exactly new; people have been renting rooms in their homes, selling used items, and providing rides for pay through more localized channels well before the Internet’s existence. In communities with many elderly residents who no longer drive, it is not uncommon for a “younger” retiree to offer rides to neighbors for a small fee, for instance.

Technology has made it easier than ever to sell a variety of services online, made simple by companies like those mentioned above who provide a platform to connect buyers and sellers. No longer are drivers limited to their neighbors or word of mouth in order to make money. With online reviews and user ratings, these platforms provide at least a little information for consumers to make informed decisions about the services they are purchasing.

Critics have questioned whether this is indeed sharing—isn’t sharing something we do without the expectation of being paid? But more centrally, we might ask how the profits from these industries are distributed. Are the companies whose success comes from the service providers sharing the wealth they generate?

A Los Angeles Times columnist decided to find out for himself by becoming an Uber driver. He signed up to become a driver, did some test runs, and took an entire day to drive from 9 am to 5 pm, and then again after 9pm that day to get a sense of how much he might make. After 9 hours on the job he earned $122.64, after Uber’s cut.

He also had to pay for gas, and of course the car insurance and maintenance. As an independent contractor, he had no access to benefits. The app made it easy for people to pay online so he didn’t have to worry about collecting fares. Maybe because of this he didn’t get any tips. While Uber has an estimated value of $50 billion, Lopez estimated that he made just over $12 an hour during his experiment.

While this is just one day—certainly a driver’s income will vary each day—at this rate working 8 hour days, 5 days a week for 50 weeks a year one might earn $24,000 a year before taxes. When you consider the cost of gas, insurance, and the car’s maintenance, and income taxes, an Uber driver would likely have a net income low enough to qualify for food stamps. The “sharing economy” may be a contradiction in terms.

Lawsuits in California, Florida, and Massachusetts have challenged that Uber drivers are employees, not independent contractors, and should be granted the same rights as employees. Aside from benefits many full-time workers enjoy like health care, sick time, vacation time and retirement, these and other lawsuits raise questions about whether workers might be entitled to worker’s compensation or disability pay should they become injured. Driving, of course, is not without its risks.

By contrast, other online services might better fit the term “sharing economy.” For instance, Meetup.com earns revenues from organizers who pay fees to maintain their group on the site. This service promotes a variety of social activities from book clubs to photography groups, networking groups for different industries, political organizing, and an endless list of possibilities for people to join others for activities. While some groups charge nominal fees to participants in order to recoup the cost of the site, most events are free for participants.

While on vacation earlier this year, my husband and I signed up for a Meetup group at our destination in order to enjoy some outdoor activities with people who know the area. The organizer was a retired man who wanted to keep fit and active, and so he regularly scheduled 5-7 activities every week ranging from hikes to canoeing trips to visits to local festivals.

We went on one of his posted activities and enjoyed a hike in an area near our hotel with his group. He told us that he likes meeting new people and sharing his hometown with others. It is a win-win: he gets to exercise, avoid isolation, and feel pride about being able to help people enjoy their visit. He was truly sharing, expecting nothing in return from participants other than our company.

New opportunities to exchange goods and services are changing the economy in many positive ways, and with some drawbacks. Many people love the flexibility of renting a room in their house or getting rides from Lyft. It’s just not always technically sharing.

What other examples of the sharing economy can you think of that might not be truly sharing? Other examples of the sharing economy that embody the spirit of sharing?

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