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Brian Hennigan

Research Findings

Teaching thrift to the poor

November 26, 2020

Job-readiness programs have become the predominant response to the joblessness and precariousness of the poor. These programs aim to instill within clients the cherished virtue of work. But, as we show in a recent article, they also promote the hallowed virtue of thrift.

We build upon Batya Weinbaum and Amy Bridges’s argument, in their 1976 piece in Monthly Review, that consumption is a form of labor deserving of greater attention. We show that job-readiness programs do not just condition participants to labor, but condition them to this labor of consumption, casting the latter as the most likely path toward mobility. They do not just encourage clients to enter the labor market, but pressure them to endure the daily indignities and insufficient earnings of low-wage work through an embrace of individual austerity.

Job readiness programs, we argue, thus focus on “both sides of the paycheck:” the earning of a paycheck as well as the spending, stretching, and even supplementing of that paycheck.

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