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  • Thinking About A Third Category Of Work In The Trump Years

    Written on February 14, 2017

    Our guest author today is Benjamin Sachs, the Kestnbaum Professor of Labor and Industry at Harvard Law School. This post, originally published at OnLabor, is part of a series of posts by speakers at our 2016 conference, "The Challenge of Precarious Labor," videos of which can be found here.

    During the last few years of the Obama Presidency, we saw a productive debate over the question of whether changes in the organization of work called for a new legal categorization of workers. In particular, the question was whether we need a third category, intermediate between “employee” and “independent contractor,” to capture the kinds of work arrangements typified by gig economy firms like Uber. Seth Harris and Alan Krueger, in a leading example, called for the creation of a legal category they named “independent worker,” which would grant some – but not all – protections of employment law to workers engaged in these types of work relationships.

    There were several primary points of contention in the debate. One was whether such a third category actually was necessary, or whether the existing categories of employee and independent contractor were flexible and capacious enough to capture the new work relationships. Harris and Krueger took one position on this question, I took another.

    A second question was whether a third category would result in ‘leveling up’ or ‘leveling down.’ One hypothesis was that if we created a new category – independent worker or something similar – workers previously classified as independent contractors would be shifted up (as it were) into the new category and thus granted expanded protections relative to what they enjoyed as contractors. The other hypothesis, the more pessimistic one, was that workers previously classified as employees would be shifted down into the new category and thus offered fewer protections relative to what they enjoyed as employees.

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  • Build A Precariat Strategy

    Written on February 9, 2017

    Our guest author today is Guy Standing, a professorial research associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and co-founder of BIEN, the Basic Income Earth Network. This post is part of a series of posts by speakers at our 2016 conference, "The Challenge of Precarious Labor," videos of which can be found here.

    All forward marches towards more freedom and equality are led by and for the emerging mass class, not by and for yesterday’s. Today, the political left in America and Europe is in disarray because they have not taken heed of that historical lesson. Trump is one nightmarish outcome of that failure.

    Today’s mass class is the precariat, not the old industrial proletariat. It is scarcely news to say we are in the eye of the storm of the Global Transformation, the painful construction of a global market system. The crisis, analogous to the crisis moment of the Great Transformation that preceded it, is epitomised by the aggressive populism of Trump, playing on the fears, deprivations and insecurities that had been allowed to grow in the preceding three decades.

    But the left needs to step back from entering the vortex of the storm Trump is generating, to reflect on a strategic response, to build a new vision of a Good Society that responds to the insecurities and aspirations of the precariat.

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  • The Future Of Worker Voice And Power

    Written on January 30, 2017

    Our guest author today is David Madland, Senior Fellow and the Senior Adviser to the American Worker Project at the Center for American Progress. This post is part of a series of posts by speakers at our 2016 conference, "The Challenge of Precarious Labor," videos of which can be found here.

    My goal is to provide a long-term vision of how we can address the fundamental economic and democratic challenges faced by our country, as well as to discuss some realistic steps for state and local governments to take to move us toward this vision.

    Today’s economy does not work very well for most people. Wages have been stagnant for decades and inequality is near record highs. Many voters blame politicians for these problems – for doing the bidding of CEOs while leaving workers with too little power to get their fair share.  Voter anger and the politicians fortified by it have put our democracy in real trouble.

    There are of numerous reforms necessary to ensure that workers have sufficient power to raise wages, reduce inequality, and make democracy work for all Americans – including those that reduce the influence of money in politics and that promote full employment.  But among the most important reforms are those that give workers a way to band together and have a strong collective voice.  Collective voice enables workers to negotiate with CEOs on a relatively even footing and to hold politicians accountable.  When workers have a strong collective voice, not only can they increase their own wages, but also improve labor standards across the economy and provide a key counterbalance to wealthy special interests, making politicians more responsive to the concerns of ordinary Americans. 

    But we need new and better ways for workers to achieve that strong collective voice.  Fewer than 7 percent of workers in the private sector are members of a union – meaning that 93 percent are left out of the current system.

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  • Perceived Job Security Among Full Time U.S. Workers

    Written on August 18, 2016

    In a previous post, we discussed some recent data on contingent work or alternative employment relationships – those that are different from standard full time jobs, including temporary help, day labor, independent contracting, and part time jobs. The prevalence of and trends in contingent work vary widely depending on which types of arrangements one includes in the definition, but most of them are characterized by less security (and inferior wages and benefits) relative to “traditional” full time employment.

    The rise of contingent work is often presented as a sign of deteriorating conditions for workers (see the post mentioned above for more discussion of this claim). Needless to say, however, unemployment insecurity characterizes many jobs with "traditional" arrangements -- sometimes called precarious work -- which of course implies that contingent work is an incomplete conceptualization of the lack of stability that is its core feature.

    One interesting way to examine job security is in terms of workers’ views of their own employment situations. In other words, how many workers perceive their jobs as insecure, and how has this changed over time? Perceived job security not only serves as a highly incomplete and imperfect indicator of “real” job security, but it also affects several meaningful non-employment outcomes related to well being, including health (e.g., Burgard et al. 2009). We might take a very quick look at perceived job security using data from the General Social Survey (GSS) between 1977 and 2014.

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  • Is The Motherhood Penalty Real? The Evidence From Poland

    Written on October 23, 2015

    It has long been assumed that the residual gap in earnings between men and women (after controlling for productivity characteristics, occupation and industry segregation, and union membership status) is due to gender discrimination. A growing body of evidence, however, suggests that it may also reflect the effect of having children.

    According to this research, employed mothers now account for most of the gender gap in wages (Glass 2004). In the U.S., controlling for work experience, hourly wages of mothers are approximately four percent lower for each child they have, compared to the wages of non-mothers (Budig and England, 2001). The magnitude of these family effects differs across countries, but, in general, men accrue modest earnings premiums for fatherhood, whereas women incur significant earnings penalties for motherhood (Waldfogel, 1998; Harkness and Waldfogel, 2003; Sigle-Rushton and Waldfogel, 2007; Budig and Hodges, 2010; Hodges and Budig, 2010; Smith Koslowski, 2011).

    The size of the penalty seems also to vary by whether women and men are toward the top or bottom of the employment hierarchies of skills and wages, and it also varies across countries (England et al. 2014; Cooke 2014). The findings in this area are sometimes inconsistent, however, and suggest that there is a need to include a combination of skills and wages (England et al. 2014) and to choose carefully measures of job interruptions (Staff and Mortimer, 2012).

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  • Why Do So Many Workers Have Bad Jobs?

    Written on October 9, 2013

    About one in five American workers today have jobs that offer low wages, poor benefits and few opportunities for advancement. But what can you do, right? After all, don’t we know that what’s good for business is often not good for people?

    Not really, argues Zeynep Ton, an adjunct associate professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, in this recent article. Although the conventional wisdom is that companies have no choice but to pay their employees poorly to remain competitive, Ton’s research suggests the opposite is true: When companies invest in their workforce, everybody wins.

    Ton studied the practices of four highly regarded retailers – Mercadona*, QuikTrip, Trader Joe’s, and Costco – and found that “highly successful retail chains not only invest heavily in store employees but also have the lowest prices in their industries, solid financial performance, and better customer service than their competitors." Indeed, low wages are “not a cost-driven necessity but a choice." Her analysis suggest that one key to breaking the perceived trade-off is “a combination of investment in the workforce and operational practices that benefit employees, customers, and the company."

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  • A New Twist On The Skills "Blame Game"

    Written on February 7, 2013

    It is conventional wisdom that the United States is suffering from a severe skills shortage, for which low-performing public schools and inadequate teachers must shoulder part of the blame (see here and here, for example).  Employers complain that they cannot fill open slots because there are no Americans skilled enough to fill them, while pundits and policymakers – President Barack Obama and Bill Gates, among them – respond by pushing for unproven school reform proposals, in a desperate effort to rebuild American economic competitiveness.

    But, what if these assumptions are all wrong?

    What if the deficiencies of our educational system have little to do with our current competitiveness woes? A fascinating new book by Peter Cappelli, Why Good People Can't Get Jobs: The Skills Gap and What Companies Can Do About It , builds a strong case that common business practices - failure to invest adequately in on-the-job training, offering noncompetitive wages and benefits, and relying on poorly designed computer algorithms to screen applicants –are to blame, not failed schools or poorly prepared applicants.

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  • That's Not Teacher-Like

    Written on September 24, 2012

    I’ve been reading Albert Shanker’s “The Power of Ideas: Al In His Own Words," the American Educator’s compendium of Al’s speeches and columns, published posthumously in 1997. What an enjoyable, witty and informative collection of essays.

    Two columns especially caught my attention: “That’s Very Unprofessional Mr. Shanker!" and “Does Pavarotti Need to File an Aria Plan” – where Al discusses expectations for (and treatment of) teachers. They made me reflect, yet again, on whether perceptions of teacher professionalism might be gendered. In other words, when society thinks of the attributes of a professional teacher, might we unconsciously be thinking of women teachers? And, if so, why might this be important?

    In “That’s Very Unprofessional, Mr. Shanker!" Al writes:

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  • College For All; Good Jobs For A Few?

    Written on August 21, 2012

    A recent study by the Center for Policy Research (CEPR) asks the question that must be on the minds of college grads, now working as coffee shop baristas: “Where Have All the Good Jobs Gone?" The answer: swallowed by corporate profits and the personal portfolios of the ultrawealthy.

    Despite the fact that the American economy has experienced “enormous” productivity gains since the late 1970’s, the study finds that the number of “good jobs” (defined as those paying at least $37,000 per year, with employer-provided health insurance and an employer-sponsored retirement plan) has declined from 27.4 percent in 1979 to 24.6 percent in 2010.  This discouraging trend was strong even before the onset of the country’s economic crisis: in 2007, the year before the onset of the recession, only 25 percent of college grads had “good jobs."

    CEPR notes that the prevailing explanations for the failure to share productivity gains are “technology” and lack of necessary skills among American workers. But, if this were true, the CEPR study argues, one would expect college grads to have a higher share of good jobs than they did 30 years ago. They don’t. Instead, at every age level, today’s college grads are less likely to have a “good job” than their 1970s counterparts. This is especially surprising, the researchers note, since twice as many Americans now have advanced degrees as compared to the 1970’s.

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  • Labor Market Behavior Actually Matters In Labor Market-Based Education Reform

    Written on July 26, 2012

    Economist Jesse Rothstein recently released a working paper about which I am compelled to write, as it speaks directly to so many of the issues that we have raised here over the past year or two. The purpose of Rothstein’s analysis is to move beyond the talking points about teaching quality in order to see if strategies that have been proposed for improving it might yield benefits. In particular, he examines two labor market-oriented policies: performance pay and dismissing teachers.

    Both strategies are, at their cores, focused on selection (and deselection) – in other words, attracting and retaining higher-performing candidates and exiting, directly or indirectly, lower-performing incumbents. Both also take time to work and have yet to be experimented with systematically in most places; thus, there is relatively little evidence on the long-term effects of either.

    Rothstein’s approach is to model this complex dynamic, specifically the labor market behavior of teachers under these policies (i.e., choosing, leaving and staying in teaching), which is often ignored or assumed away, despite the fact that it is so fundamental to the policies themselves. He then calculates what would happen under this model as a result of performance pay and dismissal policies – that is, how they would affect the teacher labor market and, ultimately, student performance.*

    Of course, this is just a simulation, and must be (carefully) interpreted as such, but I think the approach and findings help shed light on three fundamental points about education reform in the U.S.

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