I was sitting in an open-ended police van with half a dozen policewomen, “hanging out” with them as they awaited orders to begin crowd control in that part of town.
A policeman came up to the back of our open-ended van and told us that it had to be taken somewhere else; we had to get off. The women grumbled good-naturedly as they began gathering their things and climbed out.
One of them, Ruqqaiya, began adjusting her headscarf so that she could also use it to cover her lower face. She then pulled out a black gown from her bag and began putting that on top of her uniform.
The “Great Resignation” has fueled growing conversations about the labor conditions facing American workers today. Millions of workers in this country, according to recent statistics, have left or are in the process of leaving jobs they have deemed unfulfilling in order to seek out something better. We are living in a moment where workers have both the ability and inclination to find new work if they are unhappy with their current job.
This moment—which is fundamentally about how workers think about jobs and strategize about their future employment—raises at least as many questions as it answers. For instance, how are workers who regularly face unpredictable schedules, pay, and changing employment status—sometimes called non-standard work conditions—able to manage job changes?
Over the last year, American workers quit their jobs at higher rates than ever before. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 4.5 million people quit in November 2021 – the most ever recorded since the BLS began publishing turnover data in December 2000. While the “Great Resignation” spans across the economy, quit rates were highest in the retail and food service industries, where workers have been resigning in droves since the beginning of last year.
Why are so many workers in retail and food service quitting their jobs? In addition to concerns over their risk of infection from COVID-19, many workers are quitting because they are dissatisfied with their poor working conditions and they hope to find better opportunities elsewhere. In particular, retail and restaurant workers report that frustration with inflexible and unpredictable hours is a primary motivation for quitting.
In a recent study, we investigate how and why unstable schedules might lead retail and food service workers to leave their jobs and assess if workers leaving these jobs are really able to find better opportunities after.
Over the past 25 years, much has been written about the role of disruptive innovations in the contemporary economy. Indeed, a great deal of attention has been paid to how nascent technological platforms, like Google, Amazon, Uber and Airbnb, have been disrupting existing industries.
Most of this research has focused on the market strategies that contribute to the success of disruptive firms. However, scholars have increasingly begun to highlight the important role that non-market and corporate political strategies play in producing market disruption. Indeed, a growing body of research suggests that, to disrupt markets, start-ups must often pursue strategies to change existing laws and regulations, which scholars have referred to as regulatory entrepreneurship.
While informative, the research on regulatory entrepreneurship has mostly centered the corporate political strategies and tactics of the disruptive firms that seek to influence their political environments, leaving the work of regulators and lawmakers to manage that disruption relatively under-explored.
The forty unemployed professionals who made it to this meeting at Jump Start Job Club are prepared to chant. Arranged in folding chairs with Styrofoam cups in hand, their eyes are fixed on their lines, projected on a PowerPoint slide: “I’m not over-qualified, I’m absolutely qualified!”
The bubbly presenter orchestrates: “Let’s say it all together!”
The crowd looks like a twenty-year reunion of the characters in the movie Office Space: not its scheming anti-work hero, but the background cast, the characters who decided to stick with the company until the layoffs came around.
About 70% of U.S. moms can expect to be primary financial providers before their first child turns 18.
In a substantial number of families with children, mothers, whether single or partnered, are now the primary breadwinner. More than 40 percent of American mothers solely or primarily support their minor children through their own earnings in any given year.
For most of the 20th century, except in wartime, says historian Stephanie Coontz, women who were the primary source of their children’s income were generally unmarried, divorced, or widowed. But for the past two decades, the most rapid growth in breadwinning mothers has been among partnered women. As late as 2000, only 15 percent of primary-earning mothers were married. But by 2017, married women accounted for almost 40 percent of mothers whose earnings were the primary support for their families, based on the 1990-2000 Censuses and 2010-2017 American Community Surveys.
Gender segregation – the tendency of men and women to work in different kinds of jobs – is an enduring problem in the United States. Because jobs dominated by women tend to be paid less than those dominated by men, segregation contributes to gender inequality. Despite progress over time, the rate of desegregation has slowed in recent decades, and segregation remains a major contributor to the gender pay gap.
However, gender segregation may be worse than we thought. It turns out that the way we typically measure segregation – using occupations – conceals gender segregation based on job titles. Therefore, we know very little about how men and women might be segregated into different job titles within occupations, especially over time and at the national level.
My recent article in the American Sociological Review shows that occupations hide significant levels of gender segregation and that job title desegregation may be slowing relative to occupational desegregation.
Self-driving cars and manufacturing automation are widely discussed as challenges for the contemporary workforce. Less visible, however, are labor questions at the other end of the commodity chain: is household garbage collected by hand or lifted by giant compactors? Does sorting for recycling take place on conveyer belts or in the back of informal workers’ carts? How are these decisions made?
These questions became especially urgent in countries across the Global South over the last few decades, when people increasingly concentrated in cities and became reliant on the packaged goods that are predestined to become trash.
While administrators feverishly cooked up policies under the guidance of international organizations, informal recyclers continued to plie streets, knocking on doors and mining dumpsites in search of waste they sell into recycling markets. Without the support of formal policies or programs, and often in spite of them, informal workers have sustained recycling globally.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic – and other large-scale issues facing humanity – organizations all over the globe have been working to tackle challenges that are key for human flourishing, and even survival. For example, non-profit organizations, medical institutions, think tanks, and corporate CSR efforts have aimed to tackle challenges such as climate change, social inequity, and finding the cure for disease or illnesses.
However, as organizations aim to address these important societal issues, they are likely to find that it’s hard to tackle grand challenges. Given the magnitude of the issues they seek to address, and the difficulty in doing so, organizations may never fully realize their goals. In such situations, progress is often slow, and failures and setbacks are almost inevitable.
John is a white, college-educated professional who lost his job. When I interviewed John, he chalked up his job loss as being a business decision, “A work superior explained to me that the business outlook was not looking good for the upcoming months. And consequently, it was a business decision, and not related to my work performance.” John added, “it was all based on dollars.”
As I explain in a new article published in Gender & Society, for John and for dozens of other unemployed men that I interviewed, the process of losing a job was a fact of the contemporary U.S. economy. For some it also appeared to reinforce their professional value.
Work in Progress is a project of the American Sociological Association's Sections on Organizations, Occupations, and Work, Economic Sociology, Labor and Labor Movements, and Inequality, Poverty, and Mobility