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Good Jobs America

Good Jobs America

Paul Osterman
Beth Shulman
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Good Jobs America
    Book Description:

    America confronts a jobs crisis that has two faces. The first is obvious when we read the newspapers or talk with our friends and neighbors: there are simply not enough jobs to go around. The second jobs crisis is more subtle but no less serious: far too many jobs fall below the standard that most Americans would consider decent work. A quarter of working adults are trapped in jobs that do not provide living wages, health insurance, or much hope of upward mobility. The problem spans all races and ethnic groups and includes both native-born Americans and immigrants. But Good Jobs America provides examples from industries ranging from food services and retail to manufacturing and hospitals to demonstrate that bad jobs can be made into good ones. Paul Osterman and Beth Shulman make a rigorous argument that by enacting policies to help employers improve job quality we can create better jobs, and futures, for all workers. Good Jobs America dispels several myths about low-wage work and job quality. The book demonstrates that mobility out of the low-wage market is a chimera—far too many adults remain trapped in poor-quality jobs. Osterman and Shulman show that while education and training are important, policies aimed at improving earnings equality are essential to lifting workers out of poverty. The book also demolishes the myth that such policies would slow economic growth. The experiences of countries such as France, Germany, and the Netherlands, show that it is possible to mandate higher job standards while remaining competitive in international markets. Good Jobs America shows that both government and the firms that hire low-wage workers have important roles to play in improving the quality of low-wage jobs. Enforcement agencies might bolster the effectiveness of existing regulations by exerting pressure on parent companies, enabling effects to trickle down to the subsidiaries and sub-contractors where low-wage jobs are located. States like New York have already demonstrated that involving community and advocacy groups—such as immigrant rights organizations, social services agencies, and unions—in the enforcement process helps decrease workplace violations. And since better jobs reduce turnover and improve performance, career ladder programs within firms help create positions employees can aspire to. But in order for ladder programs to work, firms must also provide higher rungs—the career advancement opportunities workers need to get ahead. Low-wage employment occupies a significant share of the American labor market, but most of these jobs offer little and lead nowhere. Good Jobs America reappraises what we know about job quality and low-wage employment and makes a powerful argument for our obligation to help the most vulnerable workers. A core principle of U.S. society is that good jobs be made accessible to all. This book proposes that such a goal is possible if we are committed to realizing it.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-756-0
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. CHAPTER 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    America is confronting a jobs crisis, and that crisis has two faces. The first face is obvious and greets us every morning when we read the newspapers or talk with our friends and neighbors. There is simply not enough work to go around. Following the financial crisis and Great Recession that began in 2007, unemployment has remained stubbornly high, with devastating consequences. The historian Stephan Thernstrom studied the effect of the Great Depression of the 1930s on the careers of young people who entered the job market at that time and found that they suffered permanent disadvantage.¹ Today’s young people...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Myths About the Low-Wage Job Market: Clearing the Underbrush
    (pp. 23-38)

    Far too many adult Americans work in low-quality jobs—positions that offer low wages, paltry benefits, and few advancement opportunities. The consequences can be severe for them, for their families, and for their communities. That being said, it is one thing to be concerned about the problem, but another, much harder task to think about the best way to solve it. One challenge is identifying the strategies that can improve economic outcomes for the millions of adults trapped in low-wage employment. Yet another challenge is more intellectual. Many good-hearted Americans would agree that low-wage work is a problem and would...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Do You Get What You Deserve? The Role of Education and Skill
    (pp. 39-47)

    Why are so many jobs of low quality? Why do so many people find themselves trapped in these jobs? Much of the literature and a great many commentators believe that the answer lies in the education and skills of workers themselves. In his 2010 State of the Union address, President Obama said, “The best antipoverty program is a world-class education,” and in making this assertion the president neatly captured what is certainly the dominant strain of thinking about the challenge of low-wage work.

    Scholars and policymakers point to the correlation between education and wages and argue that, if people had...

  8. CHAPTER 4 How Firms Think
    (pp. 48-69)

    The Integrated Packaging Corporation runs a factory in New Brunswick, New Jersey, that produces corrugated boxes.¹ The plant’s workforce is 60 percent minority, and the jobs of production workers are, at best, moderately skilled. In 2000, the poverty rate in the area was 38 percent and the unemployment rate 18 percent. In the plant itself, 50 percent of the hourly workers did not have a high school degree, and 75 percent were not native English speakers. Given these circumstances, it would not have been hard to drive wages down near the minimum. Yet despite all this, in the year 2000,...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Employment Standards
    (pp. 70-88)

    America has a long history of insisting on a baseline of employment conditions. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts passed the nation’s first child labor law in 1836; nearly two centuries later, standard setting is now as traditional in America as baseball. Beginning with the Progressive era, accelerating with the New Deal, and continuing to the present day (with the support of President George H.W. Bush for the Americans with Disabilities Act), a broad range of regulations have undergirded work. The best known are minimum wage and overtime rules; protections against discrimination based on race, gender, age, disability status, or sexual orientation;...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Voice and Power
    (pp. 89-104)

    Las Vegas holds a special place in the American imagination. What started off as a mission founded in 1855 by thirty Mormons then became a haven for the Mafia and, by the twenty-first century, transformed itself into an embodiment of several versions of the American dream. For some, Vegas is the place where their luck will turn and they will make their fortune at the tables. But for many others, Vegas is a jobs machine, the city where they will find work and build a decent life. Until the financial crisis, Vegas was the fastest-growing city in America. People came...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Working with Firms to Upgrade Work
    (pp. 105-115)

    Anchoring the Boston economy are the world-class hospitals that, taken together, amount to the largest source of jobs in the region. Add to these numerous nursing homes and other health facilities, and the importance of this sector to the region is obvious. Researchers, doctors, and highly skilled nurses are central to delivering quality health care and world-class innovation, but they are not alone in these efforts. Just as is true throughout the country, a large low-paid workforce labors at the core of the industry: the kitchen staff, the orderlies, the cleaners, the certified nursing assistants, the patient care technicians, the...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Job Quality on the Ground: The Story of Green Jobs
    (pp. 116-133)

    The core argument of this book is that there are choices when it comes to job quality and that low-wage work need not be low-quality. We have discussed the ideas that make this point plausible and described policies that hold promise in getting us there. But how do the necessary choices actually get made? What are the politics and decisions at play? These questions can be asked and at least partially answered in the abstract, but it would be very helpful to observe the process in real time. In this chapter, we focus on the emergence—or more accurately, the...

  13. CHAPTER 9 Conclusion
    (pp. 134-144)

    One-quarter of working adults find themselves in jobs that pay wages that hover at the poverty level, and their prospects for climbing into higher-paid work are daunting. The myth of upward mobility is just that for these people—a myth. These grim economic circumstances hurt families and communities and damage our political culture. Because many other Americans are at risk of falling into the low-wage labor market, the problem is even broader than it may seem.

    This book addresses this challenge. At the core of the book are several interrelated points: First, we must go beyond the view that the...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 145-158)
    (pp. 159-172)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 173-188)