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Research Findings

Teaching thrift to the poor

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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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Research Findings

Is A Global Framework for Regulating Transnational Corporations Possible?


November 19, 2020

Should governments mandate corporate social responsibility worldwide so that businesses can be held legally accountable for their social and environmental commitments? International organizations seriously considered this question in the 1970s but the proposal for a global framework to regulate transnational corporations collapsed in spectacular fashion, only to be resurrected in the 1990s in a much different form.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) – the notion that businesses should address their social and environmental impacts – is largely a voluntary affair today, where businesses have much discretion to decide if and how they want to practice CSR.

In a recent historical study, I show how the relative power of state and private actors within global institutions determines the fate of regulatory frameworks.

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Research Findings

“They just won’t sell to you”: When businesses are gatekeepers of customers

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November 12, 2020

Gatekeeping is defined as the work of assessing who is “in” or “out”; to identify those deemed worthy of passing through a gate. But while this important classic theory is often used to consider who gets to speak, in terms of the selection of artists, journalists and other producers of content, gatekeepers also practice this essential selection work with customers.

The gatekeeping of consumers is often not considered as a form of gatekeeping. Nonetheless, the idea of gatekeeping customers is logical when we think about credit cards, home loans, nightclubs, R-rated movies and many other areas where consumers have to be qualified. But, what about customers given access to high-end culture, such as rare pieces of fine art?

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Research Findings

The algorithmic university and the struggle over academic labor


November 5, 2020


The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic has another casualty that has gotten little widespread attention—in person teaching and learning in higher education. As self-isolation and quarantines have suppressed the transmission of the virus, the turn toward remote work using new teleconferencing technology threatens to also sweep away many of the barriers to the spread of another epidemic—the digital automation and deskilling of teaching in higher education. The pandemic has created the ideal circumstances for “edtech” venture capitalists, textbook publishers, Learning Management Systems (LMS) companies, and online education advocacy groups to expand the widespread deskilling and automation of teaching in colleges and universities.  

This rationalization of academic labor has had profound effects on US public community colleges and universities. In the past decade, on-line education (OLE) in the US has been making slow and steady gains. The widespread reliance on teleconferencing platforms such as Zoom to move nearly all higher education into OLE during the pandemic has accelerated the reorganization of the academic work of higher education. 

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Research Findings

Elaborating on the abstract: Group meaning-making in a Colombian microsavings program


October 30, 2020

What happens when official information aimed at changing people’s behaviors clashes with popular accounts and folk theories? In a time of conspiracy theories and conflicting narratives about everything from pandemic precautions to TikTok, this question is often top of mind.

In a recent article with Laura Doering, we examine this question in the context of a financial inclusion program in Colombia. Financial inclusion, or the incorporation of low-income consumers into the formal financial sector, has become a priority for governments, banks, and international organizations around the world, and Colombia is no exception. According to the World Bank, fewer than half of Colombians have a bank account, and the poor are especially unlikely to have one. 

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Research Findings

How credit matters for racial and economic justice


October 22, 2020

When Donald Trump warned voters that Senator Corey Booker might someday obliterate the suburbs by overseeing a massive buildup of public housing there, we all knew exactly what he meant. His words, like those of countless politicians before him, were carefully chosen to drum up white resentment and backlash against racial minorities.

He intuited that an easy way to do so was to invoke the myth of a federal government that abused its power to gratify minorities at the expense of white families, especially by forcing racial desegregation. The irony, however, is that the federal government today plays a relatively small role in the provision of housing for low-income renters, hemmed in largely by the same forces of white resentment and backlash that Trump sought to stir up.

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Research Findings

Old wine in new bottles: gender and the gig economy


October 15, 2020

Luke Elliott-Negri, Kathleen Griesbach, Adam Reich and I began studying platform-based food delivery in 2018. Like many labor scholars, we were fascinated by the exploding gig economy and its impact on workers. In late 2018 and early 2019 we conducted Facebook surveys with 955 platform-based food delivery workers, followed by in-depth interviews with 55 of them. 

Our data were collected well before the COVID-19 pandemic sparked an explosion of demand for all sorts of home delivery, even as it widened pre-existing gender and class inequalities. Those developments only add to the significance of our findings. 

We did not start the project with a gender focus, but we quickly learned that working-class women dominate this sector of the gig economy. About three-fourths of our survey respondents (and a similar proportion of interviewees) were female, and mostly white. This should not have been a surprise, but for us it was, maybe because we live in New York City, which has a far longer tradition of food delivery – mostly performed by immigrant men – than the rest of the U.S.

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Research Findings

How do Right to Work laws affect economic inequality?


October 13, 2020

Right to Work laws were a centerpiece of the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act that curbed many of the victories won by labor unions in the previous two decades. These laws allow for a state to prohibit union membership or the contribution of union dues as a precondition for employment at a firm.

Proponents of Right to Work argue that it removes an unjust restriction placed on worker freedom, while opponents argue that it further fragments and undermines an already weak system of labor protection for ordinary workers.

Today, 27 states with about half the US population have enacted Right to Work laws. Scholars have described Right to Work laws as some of the most consequential antilabor provisions passed in the 20th century, and many local, regional, and national social movements have been motivated to act by the prospect of a state passing or repealing these laws, as one can see with the contentious political activity surrounding Wisconsin’s passage of Right to Work in 2015 and Missouri’s repeal in 2018.

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Research Findings

Does CFO Gender affect irregularities in corporate financial statements?

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October 8, 2020

Ex-post analyses of corporate scandals often postulate a what-if scenario: Would things have been different (better) had women held the reins of those firms? Variants of this question appear in the media, political speeches, and academic research. Our recent research addresses this question by examining whether the likelihood of irregularities in corporate financial statements is lower if the firm has a female Chief Financial Officer (CFO). 

Financial statement information is critical for efficient capital allocation and investment. Misreported financial statements have harmful consequences: companies go bankrupt erasing the jobs and savings of employees; management and directors are fired, tried, and sometimes incarcerated; and confidence in business is eroded. Although financial misreporting is a popular area of multidisciplinary research, empirical inquiry is based generally on firms that are ‘caught’ engaging in fraudulent behaviors. Researchers observe detected fraud, not all fraudulent activity, generally referred to as the ‘partial observability’ problem. 

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Research Findings

Racial Pay Parity: How African Americans made government jobs good

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October 1, 2020

“Get yourself a good government job!” This familiar refrain originates in the Black community, for whom public employment offers a rare respite from the inequities of the private sector labor market. Government jobs are in fact good for many groups. The pay, status, and rewards of African-American, female, and disabled public employees are closer to that of their white, male, and non-disabled colleagues, even when accounting for public-private differences in occupation and education.  Recent attacks on public sector unions, moreover, are in part the result of prejudice against these groups.

Yet the public sector did not always protect African Americans and others. When Swedish economist and sociologist Gunnar Myrdal visited the United States in the 1930s and 1940s, he could still describe the “tenuous presence of Blacks in public employment.” This precariousness was a legacy of the Woodrow Wilson presidency which introduced segregation and discrimination into civil service hiring practices.

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