Not Getting By in America

The federal minimum wage is still only $7.25 an hour, which comes to $290 a week, before any taxes are subtracted (not to mention health insurance costs, etc.); even at the Massachusetts minimum wage of $8 per hour, the totally per week is only $300, per month approx. $1200. The last time I checked, the least expensive one bedroom apartment I saw advertised was $600 per month. If taxes only took 25% of my $1200 monthly income, I’d be left with $900, and if rent was $600… three hundred dollars left for food, car related expenses (if I could even afford to keep the car!) clothing… the activities my children currently get to take part in –horseback riding; cross country skiing – would clearly have to go, as there would be absolutely no way we could afford them, on my salary, alone. Even if I didn’t have any children to take care of, it would still be pretty difficult to feed and cloth myself, and keep my car running, on only $300 a month, impossible, I’d say. And I certainly wouldn’t have enough money to take a sociology class at community college! Tho’ I suppose I would then qualify for financial aid.

But even if I got financial aid, where would I find the time (and energy!) to go to school? Perhaps the most surprising thing about Ehrenreich’s experience was how completely exhausted she was, how her life was really all about going to and from work, even before she tried taking on the second job. For a woman with children… taking on the second job would make it impossible to be around for the children, esp. in those well known after school/before dinner and bedtime “witching” hours, when we heard adolescent crime peaks, and which are the hours when my friend, the single mom, is pretty sure her then 15 year old got pregnant… while she was busy working two jobs, so she could afford to move her single-parent family to a better apartment…

The issues begin to compound. And, as Ehrenreich points out, if one gets sick, or injured and can’t work for a while, thereby losing what little minimum wage income one does earn… homelessness and utter financial ruin are not far away, unless one somehow finds a very different way to live (alluded to with George living in the “flophouse”, where he had to wait for his turn to sleep, until someone else went to work thereby freeing up a bed… ) and/or one is able to borrow from, stay with friends. People do apparently survive, on minimum wage jobs, but it obviously isn’t easy, nor is it pretty, as Ehrenreich discovered.

I think the only way a family with two children could survive on a minimum wage job would be thru extreme creativity, extreme good health, not eating much, and, good fortune and good friends and neighbors. I think surviving on a minimum wage salary would require a very different kind of cooperative community-based creativity, than the kind of “individualistic” living I currently do, with my family.

I do think the minimum wage should be raised; this may not be very easy, in the current political climate. In addition, the minimum wage would have to be raised so much, to help a single-parent live above the Federal poverty line, that I am not sure this is realistic – thinking the wage could be raised that much. An article in the 3-31-11 issue of The New York Times addressed just this issue, “Many Low Wage Jobs Seen as Failing to Meet Basic Needs”. A link to the article is here:

According to the research reported on here, minimum wages would need to be significantly more, to enable families to live at a level where more than just absolute basic needs could be met. Ehrenreich conducted her experiment all the way back in 1998; we as a society still face similar issues, today. The more things change, the more they stay the same?


Women and the Birth of Sociology

First: I had technical difficulties! Sorry this post is a bit late!

What does it mean to say that women have been ‘written out’ of sociology’s history? Why did this happen? What issue or ideas did sociology’s women founders have in common? What is the importance of recognizing the contribution of sociology women founders?

Being “written out of history” is different from being invisible. When something or someone is invisible, it is never seen at all. According to author’s Patricia Madoo Lengermann and Jill Niebrugge-Brantley (Ch. 3, Seeing Ourselves), many of the contributors to the developing field of sociology, in the 19th and early 20th century were women: Harriet Martineau in England, Jane Addams and Anna Julia Cooper in the U.S., were all widely recognized as living, breathing, writing and working sociologists, in their day. However, even in our own class text book, when you turn to the chapter on the birth and history of sociology…. all the authors cited are men.

What’s going on? Patriarchy (privileging if not enshrining male bias) is almost certainly a big part of it. However, it seems possible to me that the tendency of the early women sociologists, to have been more interested in what we might call social activism (Anna Julia Cooper and her anti lynching and anti racism campaigns; Jane Addams’ Hull House, providing services to immigrant women and children) may also have had something to do with this “writing out of history” of the women sociologists. Whereas Comte, Durkheim and Marx were concerned with theoretical ideas, pertaining often to groups of men and their more public roles in life, a common thread can be found, in the work of the women sociologists, having to do with domestic and everyday living concerns of women and children. Theory seems to have been privileged, over the “work a day” concerns of how and where women, children, and “minority” groups like African Americans, were actually living their lives. The women sociologists seem to have been more concerned with activism, over theoretical predictions.

Why recognize women’s contribution to the field? In order to realize that there were several branches, if you will, on the growing tree of sociology. In order to realize that there were in fact more than just a few (mostly white) men, there at the beginning of the very field.

I find myself wondering: If these important early sociologists were “written out” of the history of the field, who or what other work might now be missing?