Staircases and Treadmills

Staircases and Treadmills: Labor Market Intermediaries and Economic Opportunity in a Changing Economy

Chris Benner
Laura Leete
Manuel Pastor
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    Staircases and Treadmills
    Book Description:

    Staircases or Treadmills? is the first comprehensive study documenting the prevalence of all types of labor market intermediaries and investigating how these intermediaries affect workers’ employment opportunities. Benner, Leete, and Pastor draw on years of research in two distinct regional labor markets—“old economy” Milwaukee and “new economy” Silicon Valley—including a first-of-its-kind random survey of the prevalence and impacts of intermediaries, and a wide range of interviews with intermediary agencies’ staff and clients. One of the main obstacles that disadvantaged workers face is that social networks of families and friends are less effective in connecting job-seekers to stable, quality employment. Intermediaries often serve as a substitute method for finding a job.  Which substitute is chosen, however, matters: The authors find that the most effective organizations—including many unions, community colleges, and local non-profits—actively foster contacts between workers and employers, tend to make long-term investments in training for career development, and seek to transform as well as satisfy market demands. But without effective social networks to help workers locate the best intermediaries, most rely on private temporary agencies and other organizations that offer fewer services and, statistical analysis shows, often channel their participants into jobs with low wages and few benefits. Staircases or Treadmills? suggests that, to become more effective, intermediary organizations of all types need to focus more on training workers, teaching networking skills, and fostering contact between workers and employers in the same industries. A generation ago, rising living standards were broadly distributed and coupled with relatively secure employment. Today, many Americans fear that heightened job insecurity is overshadowing the benefits of dynamic economic growth. Staircases or Treadmills? is a stimulating guide to how private and public job-matching institutions can empower disadvantaged workers to share in economic progress.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-043-1
    Subjects: Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. About the Authors
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Amy Dean and Joel Rogers

    The idea for the research project that forms the basis of this book first emerged out of the efforts of Working Partnerships USA (WPUSA) in Silicon Valley, and the Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS) in Wisconsin. Both organizations have experimented with building labor market intermediaries as part of a broader strategy of promoting improved wages, better working conditions, and “high-road” economic strategies. Now that the research has been completed, we have been asked by the authors to say something about the organizational background to the study it reports, and the implications of its finding for future work. What inspired our...

  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
    Chris Benner, Laura Leete and Manuel Pastor
  6. Chapter One Mobility and Economic Opportunity: The Role of Intermediaries
    (pp. 1-23)

    Many Americans work in low-wage jobs at some point in their lives. For many of them, low-paid work is only a temporary situation and they are able to move over time to higher-paid positions with better career opportunities. A substantial number of people, however, remain in low-paid jobs for long periods of time. Indeed, some seem to be caught in an endless cycle of moving from one low-paid job to another, all with poor working conditions, few benefits, and limited opportunities for advancement. Why do some people seem to be stuck in low-wage work while others eventually are able to...

  7. Chapter Two The Old and New Economies: A Comparison of Milwaukee and Silicon Valley
    (pp. 24-57)

    Most workers, especially those in the lower tiers of the labor market, search for employment opportunities within the area accessible by daily commute. Similarly, employers search for employees to fill job openings primarily from within regional labor markets. Clearly there are exceptions to this, at both the upper and lower ends of the labor market, and some intermediaries may recruit on a national or even international scale (for example, headhunters for skilled positions or labor brokers for seasonal or migrant farmworkers). Nonetheless, most job matching happens within regional labor markets. As a result, the characteristics of most intermediaries, including the...

  8. Chapter Three Meeting, Molding, and Making Markets: How Intermediaries Shape Labor Flows
    (pp. 58-97)

    The central question that drove the research for this book was this: how do labor market intermediaries affect labor market outcomes for disadvantaged workers? Answering this question requires knowing both how prevalent LMIs are in the labor market and how they affect labor market processes. To understand how prevalent they are, we knew we had to survey workers themselves and ask whether they have used intermediaries, why they may have used them and how often, what kinds of services they have received, and the quality of the jobs they have obtained through intermediaries. In the following three chapters, we report...

  9. Chapter Four The Incidence and Use of Labor Market Intermediaries
    (pp. 98-124)

    To date, there has been little comprehensive work quantifying the incidence and nature of intermediary use in the U.S. economy. There have been case studies of certain sorts of LMIs, although most of them simply highlight “best practices” and few try to profile the average experience, as we did in the previous chapter. There have also been empirical studies following certain kinds of workers using certain kinds of LMIs (see, for example, Autor and Houseman 2005b) The broadest study looking at LMI use in a full labor market context was conducted by Fredrik Andersson, Harry Holzer, and Julia Lane (2005)....

  10. Chapter Five The Impact of Intermediaries on Job Outcomes
    (pp. 125-170)

    In the previous chapter, we reviewed data from the Survey of Labor Market Intermediary Use to examine the nature of LMI use by workers in two regions, and we considered the differential experience of workers who are disadvantaged by education, income, or race. Here we give further consideration to the impact of intermediaries. We look at job outcomes—occupation, industry, wages, hours, and benefits—with an eye to whether workers obtained their job through an intermediary agency, the kind of agency used, and their level of disadvantage.

    Job outcomes, of course, are jointly determined by complex factors on both the...

  11. Chapter Six The Role of Social Capital in Choosing Labor Market Intermediaries
    (pp. 171-222)

    Many workers solve the dual problem of job-seeking—that is, how to collect information about jobs and how to signal their reliability to employers through referrals—without using formal intermediaries. One could, for example, seek employment possibilities via newspaper classified ads, the Internet, and other outlets, and then use an elegantly written résumé to seize an employer’s attention. Many job-seekers also use social networks (Fernandez and Weinberg 1997; Granovetter 1995). As noted in chapter 4, around 23 percent of our survey respondents used friends to secure employment, while 8 percent were in a family business or self-employed.¹

    Not all labor...

  12. Chapter Seven Conclusions and Implications for Future Research and Policy
    (pp. 223-236)

    When the planning for this research project began in the late 1990s, the term “labor market intermediary” was nearly unknown. Indeed, a full-text search of nearly four thousand scholarly journals indexed by ProQuest reveals only ten articles from 1987 to 1996 that mention the term. Though still hardly a household term, in recent years scholarly interest in labor market intermediaries has increased significantly. In 2004 and 2005, more than ten articles each year were published that mention the term—a tenfold increase. A search for terms related to particular types of intermediaries, including temporary help agencies and new forms of...

  13. Appendix Data and Methods
    (pp. 237-258)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 259-270)
  15. References
    (pp. 271-280)
  16. Index
    (pp. 281-294)