Posts Tagged ‘recession’

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Is the Face of Homelessness Changing?

July 19, 2009

Traditionally, when many people think about a person who is homeless, the first archetype that comes to mind is a long term unemployed male, street beggar, drug user, or, sadly, the mentally ill. However, that may be changing now.

People who were traditionally employed in blue collar jobs (construction, retail, truck driving, factory work, etc.) were the ones who typically became unemployed and lost their homes. Now unemployment is creeping up even higher on the socio-economic scale to include white collar management (factory management, store management, teachers, nurses, etc.). These people, already in debt with credit cards, education loans, car payments, and variable mortgages are losing their homes, too.

With this in mind, many people are becoming critical of “shovel ready job” programs and re-education through community colleges that the current administration is pursuing. They argue that the “new homeless” won’t be helped by short-term, low income jobs. The “new homeless” are often already educated. They charge that the failure isn’t among the unemployed and shouldn’t be the focus of adjustments. Rather than creating “low end,” temporary jobs for “high end” unemployed, the management of the economy needs to be fundamentally changed. It should be regulated less and the types of regulations that are used need to reflect the underlying causes of the recession.

What do you think? Would you like to respond to this article? If so, select one of the topics below:

1. What do you think short term and low paying jobs will accomplish in the long term for our economy?

2. What do you think caused the recession? Some social scientists are now saying that we have “bottomed out” in the Bush Recession and are entering another, separate, discrete recession being caused by factors other than those credited with causing the original recession. What do you think?

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Measuring Crime

June 18, 2009

Before we can control it, we have to be able to measure it!

Before we can control it, we have to be able to measure it!

With the current recession in progress, a fair number of sociologists who study crime have predicted an increase in certain types of crime called “instrumental crimes.” These are crimes that are committed for material goals—usually money. In fact, how best to deal with a possible spike in crime rates is already being discussed among sociologists. One of the first issues is trying to figure out how to determine when we are successfully controlling crime. Yes, even that is open to debate!

One way sociologists measure society’s level of crime control is through something called a “clearance rate.” Traditionally speaking, this a rate that compares the number of arrests made by police to the number of crimes reported to authorities in a specific area. Examples of specific areas could include murder, rape, arson, burglary, or car theft.

Some sociologists object to this method for several reasons. First, the number of crimes committed doesn’t always match the number of crimes reported. (The difference between the number of crimes committed and the number we know about is called the “dark figure” of crime). Another problem is that one person can commit several different crimes. For example, a burglar can break into ten homes before he is arrested for one burglary. This results in ten crimes being “solved,” but credits only one arrest. Third, just because someone is arrested and convicted of a crime doesn’t necessarily mean they actually committed the crime.

My basic response to the problems above is to refer to the elementary principles and concerns of social research. Specifically, these problems illustrate sociologists’ concerns about reliability and validity in research. Would you like to post a reply to this article? If so select select a topic below or respond to the another reader’s response:

1. What is meant by the term “reliability” in sociology? How can you use the example of using “clearance rates” to illustrate issues of reliability in sociological studies?

2. What is meant by the term “validity” in sociological research? How can you use the example of using “clearance rates” to illustrate issues of “validity” in sociological studies?

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More Problems from the Economy?

January 21, 2009

When people complain about the impacts of a recession, they are often concerned with reductions in income or job losses. But economic downturns may bring more than monetary ramifications. Some social scientists have associated increases in crime rates with decreases in the economy. This correlation is usually associated with instrumental crimes—crimes committed for material gain such as burglary, robbery, drug sales, and car theft. The belief is that the likelihood of people turning to crime increases as that population’s avenues for legitimate sources of income decrease. In other words, fewer jobs means more crime. This would seem to be common sense. But when we look at things closer, they get more complex.

According to many experts, we have been in a recession since December of 2007. The above hypothesis might lead us to believe that instrumental crime rates should have increased. But that hasn’t happened across much of the country. In many parts of the nation, instrumental crime rates have actually decreased! For example, Los Angeles city crime levels are at a 40-year low. Some suggest this might indicate that other social factors influence crime rates as strongly as the economy’s health.

Ideas for Discussion:
1) Do you think crime rates will start to increase if the recession persists? Why?

2) How can things like education level, community involvement, population size, or a population average age affect crime levels? What insights does this give you into explaining and controlling other social problems associated with a poor economy?

3) How could you use your above responses to encourage people to think of society as a interdependent system and not just separate parts? What would be the advantage of that approach in explaining social phenomena?

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