Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Old Assumptions, New Realities

Old Assumptions, New Realities: Ensuring Economic Security for Working Families in the 21st Century

  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Old Assumptions, New Realities
    Book Description:

    The way Americans live and work has changed significantly since the creation of the Social Security Administration in 1935, but U.S. social welfare policy has failed to keep up with these changes. The model of the male breadwinner-led nuclear family has given way to diverse and often complex family structures, more women in the workplace, and nontraditional job arrangements. Old Assumptions, New Realities identifies the tensions between twentieth-century social policy and twenty-first-century realities for working Americans and offers promising new reforms for ensuring social and economic security. Old Assumptions, New Realities focuses on policy solutions for today’s workers—particularly low-skilled workers and low-income families. Contributor Jacob Hacker makes strong and timely arguments for universal health insurance and universal 401(k) retirement accounts. Michael Stoll argues that job training and workforce development programs can mitigate the effects of declining wages caused by deindustrialization, technological changes, racial discrimination, and other forms of job displacement. Michael Sherraden maintains that wealth-building accounts for children—similar to state college savings plans—and universal and progressive savings accounts for workers can be invaluable strategies for all workers, including the poorest. Jody Heymann and Alison Earle underscore the potential for more extensive work-family policies to help the United States remain competitive in a globalized economy. Finally, Jodi Sandfort suggests that the United States can restructure the existing safety net via state-level reforms but only with a host of coordinated efforts, including better information to service providers, budget analyses, new funding sources, and oversight by intermediary service professionals. Old Assumptions, New Realities picks up where current policies leave off by examining what’s not working, why, and how the safety net can be redesigned to work better. The book brings much-needed clarity to the process of creating viable policy solutions that benefit all working Americans.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-721-8
    Subjects: Economics, Political Science

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Contributors
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Chapter 1 Old Assumptions, New Realities
    (pp. 1-28)
    Marcia K. Meyers, Robert D. Plotnick and Jennifer Romich

    In an era of rapid technological change and continuing globalization of labor, capital, and product markets, old economic notions of a trade-off between “efficiency” and “equality” have been replaced by a more nuanced understanding of the interdependence of economic and social development. Governments in all industrialized countries balance economic imperatives to increase the size, efficiency, and productivity of their economies, with social imperatives to promote individuals’ productivity, economic opportunity, economic security, and social inclusion in their communities. Although governments are charged with achieving these social goals for all populations in their countries, it is particularly critical to assure the health...

  7. Part I Policies to Increase Economic Security in the Twenty-First Century

    • Chapter 2 Working Families at Risk: Understanding and Confronting the New Economic Insecurity
      (pp. 31-70)
      Jacob S. Hacker

      Arnold Dorsett was an American success story. An air conditioner repairman, he earned more than his father ever did: almost $70,000 a year, thanks to a relentless schedule of eighty- to ninety-hour workweeks. He owned a good home in the suburbs. His wife, Sharon, training to be a nurse when they met and hoping to return to school soon, stayed home to care for their three kids. Arnold was driven, a striver. He was also, it turned out, the father of a young boy who was sick and getting sicker.

      Zachary had been unhealthy since birth—one reason why Sharon...

    • Chapter 3 Workforce Development and Public Policy: Addressing New Realities in Low-Skill Labor Markets
      (pp. 71-102)
      Michael A. Stoll

      Over the four decades since 1970, significant economic and social transformations have changed the economic opportunities of and rewards from work for those with limited education, especially if they live in poor, urban, or minority communities. Over this period, good jobs that required only a basic education began to disappear, leaving many unable to find work and form strong labor-market attachment, thus raising the economic cost of having a limited education. Many of these jobs have been replaced by ones that require different sets of skills, and their geographic locations have shifted as well. More often than not, these changing...

    • Chapter 4 Creating Opportunity at the Bottom: The Role of Skill Development and Firm-Level Policies in Improving Outcomes for Low-Wage Employees
      (pp. 103-124)
      Paul Osterman

      In the past several decades the American labor market has gone through a remarkable number of changes. The nature of the employment relationship has evolved as firms have reduced the types of commitments they are willing to make to their employees and, as part of this reconsideration, introduced new employment arrangements such as contingent employment systems and contract employment. New threats have arisen as employers outsource jobs throughout the globe. The channels for employee voice have narrowed as unions have lost strength. The characteristics of the workforce have changed as immigration surged. At the same time, much work has been...

    • Chapter 5 Asset-Based Policies and Financial Services: Toward Fairness and Inclusion
      (pp. 125-149)
      Michael Sherraden

      As the editors of this volume suggest in the opening chapter, we may be in an era of social policy transformation. Policies that were put into place during the twentieth century, in the United States and abroad, today are experiencing strain, questioning, and revision. Although typically discussed in the political terms of left and right, the sources of policy strain are primarily technological and economic.¹ Social policies of the twentieth century were designed for an industrial society with low-skilled and relatively stable labor markets. When a household was without labor income due to death, disability, job loss, age, or some...

    • Chapter 6 Ensuring That Americans Can Succeed at Home and at Work in a Global Economy
      (pp. 150-184)
      Jody Heymann and Alison Earle

      In the early 1800s, most American adults worked out of their homes and farms. They grew their own food, made their own clothes, and produced goods largely for their own families and a small quantity for sale. The United States was a country of rural communities and small towns, and Americans who did live in cities still often worked out of their homes or in shops connected to their residences. When children weren’t apprenticing in work themselves, they were cared for in close proximity to their parents’ workplaces. There were few elderly Americans.

      In the beginning of the twenty-first century,...

  8. Part II The New Realities of Delivering Safety-Net Programs

    • Chapter 7 Nonprofit Helping Hands for the Working Poor: New Realities and Challenges for Today’s Safety Net
      (pp. 187-213)
      Scott W. Allard

      A new type of safety net has emerged in recent decades to assist low-income Americans, far different from the safety net in place during the War on Poverty of the 1960s.¹ Contrary to old notions and assumptions that view cash assistance as the dominant approach to antipoverty assistance, the twenty-first-century safety net depends heavily upon social service programs that offer helping hands to working poor populations. Government agencies and nonprofit organizations today spend more than $150 billion annually on social services such as job training, adult education, child care, substance abuse and mental health counseling, and emergency assistance that support...

    • Chapter 8 Reconstituting the Safety Net: New Principles and Design Elements to Better Support Low-Income Workers
      (pp. 214-242)
      Jodi R. Sandfort

      As the introductory chapter of this volume describes, the current social welfare system of the United States evolved incrementally, as policymakers built upon the foundation of the Social Security Act. While public social benefits such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income developed because of changing economic and demographic conditions, fundamental issues in the social welfare arena were not reconsidered. Other chapters in this volume discuss why new policy options, such as asset development or labor-market enhancements, are now necessary, and they explore how to accomplish more deep-seated change. In this chapter, I take a different course. I hold constant the...

  9. INDEX
    (pp. 243-260)