Working to Live: Winter 2020

In January 2020, a man robbed a pharmacy by handing the cashier a note stating: “Give me all the money. I’m sorry, I have a sick child. You have 15 seconds.” The cashier handed him the cash in the register and he left. In July 2019, a man with a handgun attempted to rob a smoke shop stating that his daughter needed a kidney transplant. He ended up not taking the money because it “probably wouldn’t help,” he said. Both of these stories are similar in some ways to the 2002 movie John Q starring Denzel Washington. In the film, Washington’s character holds up a hospital after finding out his health insurance will not cover the procedure for his son’s heart transplant. Collectively, these experiences collide at the intersections of work, income, and benefits. The way that our current economy is designed, someone could work all day and night and still not have enough money to pay bills and cover healthcare costs.

The restructuring of international trade agreements, economic policy changes to the U.S. tax system, political rifts, and technological innovations are affecting the global economy and being felt in households around the world, from North America to Asia. Today’s working class, in particular, feels the brunt of these changing conditions. Here in the United States, Donald Trump is heralding low unemployment numbers, particularly for young adults and Blacks. However, a recent Brookings Institution report noted that a low unemployment rate is contextual. If newly created jobs are mostly low paying jobs without benefits, are they actually benefiting families? If not, are newly created jobs really something to celebrate if a person needs two jobs and overtime just to keep the lights on and put food on the table?

Our Winter 2020 issue highlights some of the experiences of a diverse range of workers. Authors in this issue grapple with how social inequalities influence the lives of workers. In our Features section, Jill Yavorsky, Lisa Keister, and Yue Qian tackle Gender in the 1 percent. Not only has research shown that families in the 1 percent are nearly 90 percent White, but also that women’s share of the household income represents less than 20 percent, as compared to nearly 40 percent for families in the 99 percent. The authors make a compelling argument that elite White men—rather than the women in their lives— control politics, lobbying firms, and corporations.

On the other end of the 99 percent, Peter Dreier and Daniel Fleming highlight the experiences of minimum wage workers at Disney in Working for the Mouse. With a large survey of over 17,000 respondents, they found that nearly 75 percent of Disney employees at Disneyland in Anaheim, California did not make enough money to pay their living expenses. Over half reported concerns of being evicted from their homes while the CEO of Disney makes the salary of over 9,000 Disney employees. In 2018, Anaheim voted to require Disney to pay its workers $15 an hour, with a dollar increase each year until 2022 to reach $18 per hour. Anya Degenshein tells the story of how, due to low wages, many turn to alternative banking systems, such as pawnshops, as a last resort. Degenshein tackles The Object Economy in Chicago, showing how city residents need loans for as high as $9,000 and as low as $4. Many people, like Disneyland employees, need these loans on a regular basis to pay monthly bills.

In the middle of the 99 percent, Judson Everitt examines the experiences of teachers in The Social Psychology of Teacher Walkouts. Everitt explains how teachers want smaller class sizes, better facilities, higher salaries, and more efficient policies for evaluating teaching. Interestingly, these are some of the same concerns that parents and students have. In line with the theme of social movements, Kristin Haltinner and Dilshani Sarathchandra show how climate skeptics actually display pro-environmental attitudes. They argue that political polarization is driving much of the divide about the environment.

The Q&A section features interviews with Scott Winship by Josh McCabe and Lizbeth Mateo by Jody Vallejo. Both interviews discuss these scholars’ current jobs, Winship as the Executive Director of the Joint Economic Commission in the U.S Congress and Mateo as an attorney and immigration rights activists. They both discuss the importance of moving outside of the traditional comfort zone of their professions and using one’s skill set to be the change one wants to see in the world.

Our Culture and Trends sections continue the theme of work and occupations. Inspired by the critically acclaimed film Roma, in this issue, we feature four essays that take a critical look at the experiences of domestic workers in Mexico. The Trends section covers the income prospects of college graduates with a sociology degree. Mary Senter and Roberta Spalter-Roth show that sociology graduates are in the middle of the pack for income compared to other majors and have the potential to increase their income substantially after ten years.

The Books section features two reviews, one on the resurgence of once considered working-class jobs such as barbering and bartending, while the other covers the role that social class and gender play in the increase in cohabiting households. Our Policy Brief, written by law professor Kevin Brown and professional sports consultant Antonio Williams, covers the controversial topic of “pay to play” for collegiate athletes. They argue that rather than paying individual players, universities should invest in the local communities that so many of their athletes, particularly in football and basketball, come from. Barry Glassner closes out this issue by discussing his book The Culture of Fear. Glassner challenges journalists, scholars, and policymakers to balk at the trumped-up (no pun intended) fear rhetoric that is transforming our social interactions and social institutions.

In closing, we want to thank our staff and section editors. We continue to be impressed at their ability to produce high-level content. We also want to thank our editorial board and external reviewers for their service and time.

Finally, we want to thank you—readers and supporters of Contexts Magazine. 2019 was a great year. With your help, Contexts Magazine hit 1,113,139 combined views and downloads at and the Sage publishing site. On, we had 335,492 new visitors last year with nearly 30 percent of web traffic coming from outside of the United States spanning India, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Australia, Germany, Philippines, South Africa, and Pakistan. To our growing international community, thank you for the support and we look forward to bringing you more content that speaks to your everyday realities.

Onward and upward in 2020. Let’s continue to make sociology for the public!