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Katz Lecture: Outliers and the American Dream
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Katz Lecture: Outliers and the American Dream


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  • 2. ISSUES TO CONSIDER TODAY" Ø Lessons from Outliers! Ø Social Science Research on “Outliers” ! Ø Pursuit of the American Dream! Ø Wealth Inequality in the United States! Ø The Great Recession! Ø Student Welfare Mothers as Outliers! Ø Increasing Access to American Dream ! Ø Other Lessons from Outliers…!
 WHAT IS AN OUTLIER? ! —  Gladwell defines “Outlier” as a scientific term to describe things or phenomena that lie outside normal experience. ! —  The term is commonly used in statistics, this is an outlier: ! !
  • 5. LESSONS FROM OUTLIERS: SUCCESS! —  Successful people as “outliers” but in his book, Gladwell explores the underlying external factors:! —  Chapter 2: how an arbitrary decision in the beginning (such as cut-off birthdate for youth hockey) invokes a new behavior, who becomes successful, which makes the original false conception come true.! —  Chapter 3: 10,000 hour rule: genius is a function of time not of innate talent. Bill Gates, Beatles, Mozart! —  Chapter 4: Success is not only a function of hard work, but of also likability and the ability to empathize.! —  Chapter 5: The role culture in success, with the example from Jewish lawyers in NYC came from a culture that hard work and ingenuity were encouraged. !
  • 6. LESSONS FROM OUTLIERS: SUCCESS! —  Chapter 6: Explores the role of culture of origin affects behavior in the present more than is usually appreciated. Example of the culture of honor in the US south. ! —  Chapter 7: How cultures which value deference corresponded to air crashes, and how they changed the trend.! —  Chapter 8: Gladwell examines how hard work but also culture influences can create success.! —  Final chapters: Success, giftedness, and IQ are not inherent, but can be conferred through benefits of culture and society— and we need to examine the mechanisms that are underlying success. !
  • 7. SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH! —  Throughout Gladwellʼs book he cites several prominent sociologists in his explanation of outliers, so letʼs explore this a little more.! —  Our society and culture often uses individualistic explanations to explain experiences such as success, however, sociology does not. ! —  Sociological explanations:! ◦  We try to look at external factors that shape individual choices and opportunities.! ◦  We often refer to individual choices and opportunities as personal agency--! ◦  And the external factors as the social structure. ! ! —  Sociologists look to the character and structure of social groups to which people belong in seeking possible explanations for their behavior.!
  • 8. The Sociological Imagination " —  What is the sociological imagination? Term coined by sociologist C. Wright Mills (1916–1962): the ability to see the impact of massive cultural and historical processes on our private lives.! —  The ability to recognize that the solutions to many of our most serious social problems lie not in changing the personal situations and characteristics of individual people but in changing the social institutions and roles available to them.! —  Everyday social life is the product of a complex interplay between societal forces and personal characteristics. ! —  To explain why people are the way they are (or do the things they do), we must understand the interpersonal, historical, cultural, organizational, and global environments they inhabit. ! —  To understand either individuals or society, we must understand both.!
  • 9. The Sociological Imagination " —  The Sociological Imagination allows us to understand the larger historical picture and its meaning in our own lives. ! —  Mills argued that no matter how personal we think our experiences are, many of them can be seen as products of society-wide forces. ! —  The task of sociology is to help us view our lives as the intersection between personal biography and societal history— and thereby to provide a means for us to interpret our lives and social circumstances. ! —  This is similar to what Gladwell did in Outliers with the concept of success or opportunity for success; however, sociologists tend to tackle one issue or circumstance at a time—and then explore, examine, scrutinize, observe, and study it thoroughly to create a theory that explains the phenomenon.!
  • 10. PURSUIT OF THE AMERICAN DREAM" •  What is the American Dream? ! ! •  Aspects of the American Dream include:! •  Opportunity to pursue success.! •  Personal freedom, hope, and control over decision making.! •  Fulfilling employment at a livable wage.! •  Access to higher education.! •  Material dimensions such as owning a home.! •  Could also include: protection from deep poverty (or access to a social safety net), access to health care, rewarding retirement.
 (FROM HOCHSCHILD 1996)! Ø  The American Dream consists of tenets about achieving success. Success can be relative, absolute, or competitive.! ! Ø  Everyone may achieve their American dream.! Ø  One may reasonably anticipate success.! ! Ø  The reason for success (or failure) is personal, good or bad.! Ø  The pursuit of success warrants so much fervor because it is associated with virtue.! !
  • 12. SOCIOLOGICAL ANALYSIS OF OPPORTUNITIES FOR SUCCESS! Ø  Sociologists, like Hochschild did with the American Dream, research opportunities for success…or how access to opportunities for success vary in our social structure. ! Ø  Opportunities vary in our society based on positions in the social structure. These position vary by social characteristics such as gender, race/ethnicity, social class, sexual orientation, age, religion, nation of origin, veteranʼs status, etc. !
  • 13. EQUALITY AND PERCEPTIONS! —  One of the great misconceptions in American society is the perception of equality of opportunities. ! —  Sociological research finds that opportunities are not equal for those in different positions in our social structure.! —  Some may point out that people from different positions are achieving more than ever: such as the election of an African American President, womenʼs growing equality in the workforce, or recent changes in marriage equality. ! —  Yet, these changes donʼt uncover the whole picture…!
  • 14. EQUALITY AND PERCEPTIONS •  Many gaps in equality still exist in our society. ! •  One example is the gendered wage gap—women make only 70 cents for every dollar men earn. ! •  The 113th Congress, sworn in January 2013, made a historic milestone. The new Congress is the “most diverse congress ever sworn in,” yet, women and minorities still make up only a minor percentage of the U.S. Congress. !
  • 15. EQUALITY AND PERCEPTIONS —  And, some inequalities, particularly socio-economic inequalities, are getting worse. ! —  Over the last 30 years, U.S. wealth and income inequality has increased rather significantly. !
  • 16. EXAMPLE: WEALTH AND INCOME INEQUALITY IN THE U.S.! —  One of the aspects of the American Dream is that we have equality of opportunity to achieve success. ! —  If we examine economic success, even if we modestly define it, that success is becoming more of an “outlier” for most Americans. ! —  We also know that a familyʼs socio-economic status affects their childrenʼs ability to achieve “success.” ! —  We need to examine how our society perceives wealth inequality in the U.S. versus the actual distribution of wealth. ! —! !
  • 17. QUESTIONS SOCIOLOGISTS NEED TO ASK ABOUT WEALTH AND INCOME INEQUALITY! —  Why is the perception of wealth equality so far removed from the actual distribution of wealth in the US?! —  How has opportunities to pursue economic success changed in the last 40 years? ! ! —  How are those changes caused by changes in laws and social policies? What other structural factors contributed to those changes? ! —  How are opportunities for low and middle income people affected by these inequalities? ! —  What can we do to better create opportunities for success (or at least ensure that people can reasonably pursue the American Dream)? !
  • 18. INEQUALITY AND THE GREAT RECESSION" Ø  Longest post-war recession, with “its origins in a unusually dramatic financial crisis.” (Grusky, Western, & Widmer 2010: 4)! Ø  Included an “increase in joblessness has been greater, the long- term unemployed are a larger fraction of total employment, and the recovery of the labor market, in terms of job growth and falling unemployment, has been very slow” (2010: 4). ! Ø  Predominately male-dominated industries and occupations were harder hit by the recessionʼs onset (such as construction and manufacturing), leading some to dub it a “mancession.” ! Ø  Menʼs job losses began earlier than womenʼs losses and lasted longer, and menʼs job losses were also more than twice than womenʼs losses (Hout, Levanon & Cumberworth 2010 and IWPR 2011). !
  • 20. GREAT RECESSION, EDUCATIONAL LEVEL, AND WAGES Ø  Workers fared differently in the recession according to educational level and race/ethnicity. But, higher education may have greatest impact for those from the least advantaged backgrounds. ! Ø  According to Hout, Levanon and Cumberworth (2010:73), “the risk of being unemployed declines sharply as education rises” and they found that although unemployment rate rose more or less proportionately for each educational category, that the “proportional increases raised unemployment most for the least-educated and least for the most- educated” (74).!
 EDUCATION AND WAGES" Ø  During Great Recession, workers with a Bachelorʼs degree had lower unemployment rates and higher income during the recession than those without a college degree (US Census Bureau 2012).! !High School ! !College Graduates!
  • 22. LOW-INCOME FAMILIES DURING GR" •  The Great Recession had a deep impact on American families, especially those who were low-income. ! •  Since the start of the Great Recession, the U.S. poverty rate increased each year, and was at 15.3% in 2011 (Census 2012).! •  Research shows that low-income families are usually the first to feel the effects of the recession or an economic downturn, and as a group they are some of the last to recover from a recession.! •  This trend increased since the 1996 welfare reforms. Those reforms severely limited access to higher education for low-income mothers, and instead emphasized a ʻwork firstʼ approach. This approach was aimed to reduce caseloads and move families quickly into work, without addressing the condition of low-wage workers in America. ! •  As a result, the welfare caseloads dropped dramatically, by more than half. But the poverty rate did not fall. !
  • 23. INCREASES IN THE WORKING POOR " Ø  Now, approximately 10.5 million adults are among the “working poor.” ! Ø  “Working Poor” is defined by the U.S. Department of Labor as “individuals who spent at least 27 weeks in the labor force, but whose incomes fall below the official poverty level” (2011). ! Ø  Official poverty level is $15,510 for an adult with one child. ! Ø  The number of adults in the U.S. who are working but still poor has increased by almost double since 2000 (US Dept. Labor 2002/2011).!
  • 24. Increases in Deep Poverty" —  From 2007 to 2010, employment rates for single mothers in California dropped by 10.4% and completely erased all the employment gains made by them since welfare reform was implemented, but now without a safety net to fall back on.! —  Levels of deep poverty rose dramatically during the Great Recession. ! —  Research on former welfare parents using national data (SIPP and CPS) finds that the percent of families in extreme poverty (earnings under one half of the national poverty threshold) has significantly increased, from under 1/4 of families formerly on welfare to more than 1/3 of families who formerly received assistance (Urban Institute 2007). ! —  Therefore, the modest economic gains that low-income families made in the early years after welfare reform and during the booming economy of the late 1990s, eroded completely when families started reaching their lifetime limits on assistance amidst a stalling economy, and then further deteriorated during the Great Recession (California Budget Project 2012).!
  • 25. SOCIAL SAFETY NET DURING GR" Ø  By the time the Great Recession hit, many families had reached their lifetime limits on welfare and were not eligible for any safety net services.! Ø  For the first time since welfare reform was implemented, the numbers of families on welfare is increasing.! Ø  Only 30% of poor families who would be otherwise eligible for TANF actually receive it. ! Ø  However, research shows that while food stamp use has increased by increase from 28.2 million recipients in 2008 to the present, 46.2 million recipients in 2011, an increase of roughly 64%. ! Ø  TANF has been called the “least responsive” social program during the Great Recession (MDRC 2010 and California Budget Project 2011). !
  • 26. MY RESEARCH" •  My research interests are at the intersection of pursuing the American Dream, womenʼs status in society, access to higher education, and economic mobility for low-income families.! •  American culture values higher education, recognizes the necessity of higher education for upward economic mobility, and views it as a pathway to the American Dream.! ! •  Despite the ʻwork firstʼ approach, some mothers chose to pursue higher education while on welfare in hopes of permanently escaping poverty. The mothers in my research were named the “outliers” of the welfare population." •  The existing statistical research finds that higher education for women on welfare leads to increased wages and employment opportunities, usually leading to economic self-sufficiency and upward mobility.! •  I asked: how do low-income single mothers access higher education after welfare reform? Does higher education help low-income single mothers get out of poverty? How do low-income women conceptualize and pursue the American Dream?!
  • 27. WELFARE REFORM AND HIGHER EDUCATION" •  In 2006, I conducted qualitative in-depth interviews with 45 mothers on CalWORKs (Californiaʼs welfare program) pursuing higher education in San Francisco and Alameda Counties (Oakland).! •  Upon reaching a crossroads from experiencing multiple ʻbarriersʼ to self- sufficiency (such as domestic violence, prolonged unemployment, substance abuse, or an unexpected pregnancy) the mothers wanted to change course, so they enrolled in higher education.! •  The significance mothers give to their education is similar to why other Americans pursue higher education: labor market advancement, as role models for their children, for self empowerment, and for meaning in their lives. ! •  Follow-up interviews conducted in fall 2008 with 25 participants. Third interviews conducted in spring 2011 with 35 of original 45 participants (78% retention rate).!
 DURING RESEARCH STUDY " Degrees" Pursuing in 2006" 2011 Highest " Completed Degree" Associateʼs! 60% (27)! 29% (10)! Bachelorʼs! 33% (15)! 54% (19)! Masterʼs! 7% (3)! 11% (4)! Dropped Out! ----! 6% (2)! Total! 100% (45)! 100% (35)!
  • 29. PURSUING A REFORMED DREAM" •  They struggle through reform regulations and time limits, while also struggling to raise families, attend school, and escape poverty.! •  This is a daunting but empowering experience (Katz 2013).! •  They cite higher education as the most effective use of the 60 months time-limited aid and believe it will enable them to escape poverty. ! •  This research finds that higher education does increase CalWORKs mothersʼ chances of economic stability, especially for those who graduated with Bachelorʼs degree.! •  However, what happens when low-income women graduate amidst the biggest recession the nation has experienced since the Great Depression?!
  • 31. 
 —  ʻGreat Recessionʼ hit hardest for those without Bachelorʼs degrees. A few lost jobs or were unable to find jobs after graduating. Even though participants might income-qualify for CalWORKs, they already exhausted their 60-month limit and were left with no support. ! —  The Great Recession exposed that the American safety net for low-income families was shredded in the last 15 years, and that mothers who are able to climb out of poverty, can still suffer greatly during economic downturns.! —  Their experiences illustrate that we need to rebuild the safety net, so that it is available to everyone during recessions. " —  We need to expand access to higher education for all, so that more people have access to the American Dream. !
  • 32. ACCESS TO THE AMER. DREAM •  How our society can create equality of opportunity for people? ! •  This research contributes to this national conversation by suggesting that increasing access to higher education for all, especially welfare mothers, helps families become economically self-sufficient when time-limited aid ends. Thereby decreasing the poverty rate and the welfare rolls. ! •  Higher education contributes to upward economic mobility for low-income Americans. ! •  Supportive services for working families, especially child care, medical care, food stamps, and mental health assistance, increases chances of economic self-sufficiency. " •  Also, this research finds that major social policies like universal health care, affordable housing, expanded public transportation networks, and implementing a living wage would further support low-income familiesʼ chances of economic self-sufficiency. !
  • 33. Other Outlier Lessons! " Alongside understanding more about the structure of opportunity and success through reading Gladwellʼs book, I believe we can gain additional insights into how we can create success in our own lives—and become “outliers.”! Ø Take personal initiative.! Ø Look for and be ready for new opportunities.! Ø Figure out what you are passionate about. ! Ø Put in the work (without complaining about it)!! Ø Ponder. Seek out “light bulb” moments.! Ø Then, take action!! Ø Get involved, be connected to your community, work to make the changes you want to see in society, and contribute to your world.! Ø Then, donʼt overthink it. Be happy.!
  • 34. Donʼt believe me, read more for yourself! 
 CNN recently published (8/22/2013) a list of 99 “must reads” on Income Inequality: sutter-99-inequality-must-read/index.html? iref=allsearch
 Might I also recommend: 
 One Nation, Underprivileged: Why American Poverty Affects Us All 
 by Mark Rank
 For more information, please contact:
 Sheila M. Katz, Ph.D.