In the midst of the Great Resignation and an ongoing conversation about the future of work, the new book “What Workers Say: Decades of Struggle and How to Make Real Opportunity Now” by School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2) associate professor Roberta Iversen offers an analysis of the labor market’s past 40 years and an innovative proposal for its future.
Published in June 2022 by Temple University Press, the book centers on firsthand accounts of labor market jobs since 1980, drawn from Iversen’s interviews with over 1,200 workers in the manufacturing, construction, printing, clerical, healthcare, food service, retail, and automotive industries. Through these stories, Iversen puts a human face to the labor market and tracks its evolution.
Iversen’s book makes the case that policy and politics have diminished opportunity in the wage economy, so that social mobility, promotions, employer-provided training, wage increases, and jobs themselves are increasingly less available.
A significant trend documented in the book is the reduction or complete elimination of employer-provided, on-the-job training. Iversen reports that increasingly, employers have required employees to pay for the cost of training themselves or have allocated training funds to middle management rather than to front-line workers.
At the same time, Iversen argues, unemployment may be more widespread than the numbers suggest. “Importantly, the unemployment numbers do not include the epic and lasting withdrawal of millions of workers from the labor force, those who are not counted as officially unemployed,” she says. Iversen estimates that if individuals long absent from the workforce were counted, the unemployment rate of 3.5% would have doubled.
Iversen proposes that a different future could be possible through a work expansion effort that would create new, compensated ways of working in areas such as civic engagement and infrastructure for the benefit of both workers and their communities.
“The book proposes new ways to create real opportunity for workers, including the importance of revising ideas about what work is and how some work can be transformed into civil labor and compensated in various ways, such as by money, time, or exchange,” says Iversen.
Read more at SP2.