What Works for Workers?

What Works for Workers?: Public Policies and Innovative Strategies for Low-Wage Workers

Stephanie Luce
Jennifer Luff
Joseph A. McCartin
Ruth Milkman
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 364
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  • Book Info
    What Works for Workers?
    Book Description:

    The majority of new jobs created in the United States today are low-wage jobs, and a fourth of the labor force earns no more than poverty-level wages. Policymakers and citizens alike agree that declining real wages and constrained spending among such a large segment of workers imperil economic prosperity and living standards for all Americans. Though many policies to assist low-wage workers have been proposed, there is little agreement across the political spectrum about which policies actually reduce poverty and raise income among the working poor.What Works for Workersprovides a comprehensive analysis of policy measures designed to address the widening income gap in the United States.

    Featuring contributions from an eminent group of social scientists,What Works for Workersevaluates the most high-profile strategies for poverty reduction, including innovative "living wage" ordinances, education programs for African American youth, and better regulation of labor laws pertaining to immigrants. The contributors delve into an extensive body of scholarship on low-wage work to reveal a number of surprising findings. Richard Freeman suggests that labor unions, long assumed to be moribund, have a fighting chance to reclaim their historic redistributive role if they move beyond traditional collective bargaining and establish new ties with other community actors. John Schmitt predicts that the Affordable Care Act will substantially increase insurance coverage for low-wage workers, 38 percent of whom currently lack any kind of health insurance.

    Other contributors explore the shortcomings of popular solutions: Stephanie Luce shows that while living wage ordinances rarely lead to job losses, they have not yet covered most low-wage workers. And Jennifer Gordon corrects the notion that a path to legalization alone will fix the plight of immigrant workers. Without energetic regulatory enforcement, she argues, legalization may have limited impact on the exploitation of undocumented workers. Ruth Milkman and Eileen Appelbaum conclude with an analysis of California's paid family leave program, a policy designed to benefit the working poor, who have few resources that allow them to take time off work to care for children or ill family members. Despite initial opposition, the paid leave program proved more acceptable than expected among employers and provided a much-needed system of wage replacement for low-income workers. In the wake of its success, the initiative has emerged as a useful blueprint for paid leave programs in other states.

    Alleviating the low-wage crisis will require a comprehensive set of programs rather than piecemeal interventions. With its rigorous analysis of what works and what doesn't,What Works for Workerspoints the way toward effective reform. For social scientists, policymakers, and activists grappling with the practical realities of low-wage work, this book provides a valuable guide for narrowing the gap separating rich and poor.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-819-2
    Subjects: Business, Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Tables and Figures
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Contributors
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)
    Stephanie Luce, Jennifer Luff, Joseph A. McCartin and Ruth Milkman

    Half a century ago, in his best-selling bookThe Other America, Michael Harrington awakened the nation to the persistence of grinding poverty alongside its unprecedented postwar affluence. Harrington revealed an “economic underworld” in urban tenements and remote Appalachian towns, populated largely by the aged, the unemployed, and racial minorities. Chronic unemployment, inadequate housing, racial discrimination, a thin social safety net, and a culture of hopelessness were characteristic features of this “other America.” Harrington’s book helped persuade the federal government to launch the War on Poverty by creating new federal programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and Head Start, institutionalizing what was then...

  6. PART I Low-Wage Work in Historical Perspective
    • Chapter 1 An Economy That Works for Workers
      (pp. 19-49)
      Alice O’Connor

      For the past three decades, the problem of low-wage work has become a central preoccupation among poverty analysts and advocates. While it would be an exaggeration to say they have coalesced around a unified policy agenda, collectively they have produced an impressive body of knowledge about the deteriorating prospects for low-wage workers in our New Gilded Age economy (see, for example, Danziger and Gottschalk 1995; Ehrenreich 2001; Freeman 2007; Greenhouse 2008; Handler and White 1999; Holzer and Nightingale 2007; Munger 2002). As subsequent chapters in this volume show, they also point us to a variety of strategies to empower low-wage...

    • Chapter 2 What Can Labor Organizations Do for U.S. Workers When Unions Can’t Do What Unions Used to Do?
      (pp. 50-78)
      Richard B. Freeman

      The starting point for any realistic assessment of what labor organizations can do for American workers is recognition that the traditional union model of organizing workers through representation elections and bargaining collectively with management has reached a dead end. With private-sector union density in single digits and falling and public-sector collective bargaining under attack, the only sensible answer to this chapter’s title question is that unions will not accomplish much unless they find ways to have an impact on economic outcomes outside of collective bargaining.

      In some ways the situation of labor in the early twenty-first century resembles that in...

  7. PART II Workers on the Edge:: Marginalized and Disadvantaged
    • Chapter 3 Connecting the Disconnected: Improving Education and Employment Outcomes Among Disadvantaged Youth
      (pp. 81-107)
      Peter B. Edelman and Harry J. Holzer

      Even before the Great Recession began at the end of 2007, employment outcomes among disadvantaged and less-educated youth, and especially among young men, had been deteriorating over time. Both their levels of earnings and their employment and labor force participation rates had decreased for a few decades. Among young black men, the declines in employment and labor force activity have been particularly pronounced, while their rates of incarceration have risen dramatically. As a result, the percentage of these young men who are “disconnected” from school and work has risen.

      Unfortunately, the Great Recession appears to have worsened these outcomes. Since...

    • Chapter 4 Mending the Fissured Workplace
      (pp. 108-133)
      David Weil

      During much of the twentieth century, the critical employment relationship was between large businesses and workers, but that is no longer the case. Large businesses with national and international reputations operating at the top of their industries continue to focus on delivering value to their customers and investors. However, they no longer directly employ legions of workers to make products or deliver service. Like a rock that has developed a fissure that deepens and spreads with time, the workplace over the last three decades has broken apart as employment has been shed by lead businesses and transferred to a complicated...

    • Chapter 5 Holding the Line on Workplace Standards: What Works for Immigrant Workers (and What Doesn’t)?
      (pp. 134-162)
      Jennifer Gordon

      Immigration policy is a peripheral subject for most scholars of labor and employment in the United States. Yet any coherent discussion of how to improve low-wage work in this country, where over 1 million new legal immigrants arrive each year and the population of undocumented immigrants surpasses 11 million, requires an understanding of the impact of immigration regulations and enforcement on low-wage workers’ ability to claim their rights. Likewise, few immigration scholars have in-depth knowledge of the law and policy of the workplace. Yet work remains the principal force drawing newcomers to the United States. How immigrants do once they...

  8. PART III Innovative Labor Market Interventions
    • Chapter 6 Career Ladders in the Low-Wage Labor Market
      (pp. 165-185)
      Paul Osterman

      Far too many jobs in the United States fall below the standard that most people would consider decent work. If we ask only about wages (hence being conservative by ignoring health insurance, pensions, and other attributes of decent work) and focus only on adults age twenty-five to sixty-four, then in 2011, 19 percent of adult workers earned an hourly wage below that necessary (working full-time/full-year) to raise a family of four above the poverty line of $10.96 an hour.¹ This is a very conservative estimate because it is widely accepted that the poverty line is flawed and underestimates what it...

    • Chapter 7 Employment Subsidies to Firms and Workers: Key Distinctions Between the Effects of the Work Opportunity Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit
      (pp. 186-214)
      Sarah Hamersma

      Classic economic theory suggests that an employment subsidy will increase the number of jobs and the take-home pay of workers regardless of whether it is received by firms or workers, but the targeting and implementation of each type of subsidy program can differ substantially, resulting in widely varying outcomes. In this chapter, I examine the key distinctions between these two styles of subsidies as they have been implemented in the United States, most recently via the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), a firm subsidy, and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) a worker subsidy. Both programs boast low federal administrative...

    • Chapter 8 Living Wages, Minimum Wages, and Low-Wage Workers
      (pp. 215-244)
      Stephanie Luce

      Much has already been written about the modern U.S. “living wage” movement, which began in 1994 in Baltimore.¹ The movement was hailed as one of the most exciting, and most successful, efforts of labor and community organizations of the past several decades. Almost twenty years later, with over 125 ordinances or policies in place around the country, living wage activists are still fighting for higher wages in a handful of cities, on college campuses, and in other countries. The living wage concept is perhaps as popular as ever. A recent poll found that 74 percent of New York City voters...

  9. PART IV Social Insurance Programs and Low-Wage Work
    • Chapter 9 Improving Low-Income Workers’ Access to Unemployment Insurance
      (pp. 247-272)
      Jeffrey B. Wenger

      Unemployment insurance (UI) was passed into law in 1935 as part of the Social Security Act. The system was designed to serve two purposes: provide income to eligible workers during periods of involuntary job loss, and stabilize demand in local economies with high unemployment rates. The program provides benefits to workers who have a strong workforce attachment and who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. While the UI program in the United States aims to achieve these goals, it was designed to allow the methods by which the individual states pursue them to vary. Instead of operating...

    • Chapter 10 Can the Affordable Care Act Reverse Three Decades of Declining Health Insurance Coverage for Low-Wage Workers?
      (pp. 273-304)
      John Schmitt

      About half of all U.S. residents without health insurance are workers (Rho and Schmitt 2010a). Indeed, non-elderly workers are less likely to have health insurance than many groups generally viewed as more economically vulnerable. According to the most recent census data, for example, only 2 percent of adults age sixty-five and older and about 10 percent of children under the age of eighteen lacked health insurance coverage in 2010. By contrast, about 20 percent of workers age eighteen to sixty-four—and 15 percent of full-time workers in that age range—had no health insurance in the same year (U.S. Census...

    • Chapter 11 Low-Wage Workers and Paid Family Leave: The California Experience
      (pp. 305-328)
      Ruth Milkman and Eileen Appelbaum

      As family and work patterns have shifted over recent decades, the demand for time off from work to address family needs has grown rapidly.¹ “Work family balance” has become an urgent but elusive priority for millions of Americans, driven by high labor force participation rates among mothers as well as the caregiving needs of an aging population. Women—and increasingly men as well—often find themselves caught between the competing pressures of paid work and family responsibilities, especially when they become parents or when serious illness strikes a family member. Affluent families can often fill the gap with paid care...

  10. Index
    (pp. 329-349)