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Response to Tansy_Gold (Original post)

Wed Apr 4, 2012, 09:39 AM

37. Good Jobs: Three Reasons There Aren’t More Paul Osterman

 

http://www.bostonreview.net/BR37.2/paul_osterman_jobs_employment.php

Far too many American adults work in low-wage jobs. In 2010, 20 percent of adults earned a wage that would put a family of four below the poverty line. Twenty-four percent of adults earned less than two-thirds of the median wage, another widely used international standard for gauging low-wage work. Better jobs seem the obvious solution. The government could raise and enforce labor standards and push firms to invest in training and to create advancement opportunities for low-wage workers. Unions can also play a key role by advocating for increased wages and training opportunities within firms. These steps would be effective, but they would face enormous resistance, even among liberals, because they intervene directly in the job market.

The conventional wisdom focuses almost entirely on two strategies: educating people so they can escape the low wage–job trap and, for those who cannot, providing some level of support through programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, an income supplement conditioned on work. The idea is to let the economy generate jobs of whatever quality firms choose and then, if necessary, compensate by enabling people to avoid the bad ones or by shoring up people who are stuck. The nature of available jobs is a given. In practice this restrictive framework condemns millions to low wages and poor working conditions. And it continues to be the norm thanks to three myths: 1) economic growth and high rates of upward mobility will solve the problem; 2) policy efforts to alter the distribution of economic rewards inevitably slow down growth and damage labor market efficiency; 3) education alone is enough to help low-wage workers get better jobs.

None of these claims holds water when confronted with data. That’s good news because it opens the door to serious consideration of the low wage–jobs problem and how to fix it...

What Would Work Better?
These myths advance the position of pure-market advocates against those who believe that an effective—not to mention fair—economic order requires that norms govern employment, that employees be heard, and that the social costs and benefits of economic activities are important. Until recently it seemed the latter camp was very much on the defensive. However, the Great Recession may have opened opportunities to make this case both because the pain of the downturn is so widespread and because its underlying sources seem to reside in a market mentality gone out of control.

What would it take to secure a more fair labor market? Once we understand the myths that block action to improve job quality, we need to start thinking about what is achievable.

One key step is to strengthen unions and increase other opportunities for employees to voice their interests. When represented by unions, employees in low-wage sectors—hotels, health care, food services—earn better wages and benefits. The challenge is the substantial decline of union power. In part this is due to aggressive and sometimes-illegal employer opposition. Labor law reform is therefore a central goal. However, unions also bear some responsibility. Unions have been reluctant to invest in organizing and have failed to develop strong leaders. They have also grown suspicious of progressive partners. Unions should form alliances with community groups such as the Industrial Areas Foundation, many of which organize outside the workplace and have proven effective in developing committed leaders...

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