In the wake of George Floyd’s death and the resulting Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020, many in the United States have become increasingly concerned not only with police brutality, but with the impact of systemic racism in the United States.
One important aspect of systemic racism comes in the form of job quality. There are significant gaps between white and Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino/Latina, and other racial/ethnic minority workers in the United States in this regard. White workers, for instance, tend to receive better pay, more fringe benefits, and have an easier time getting hired than workers of color.
Many large professional firms—such as law firms, accounting firms, consulting firms, and investment banks—make substantial efforts to recruit members of racial and ethnic minority groups at the entry level. However, the numbers of people of color in such firms drop significantly at more senior levels. All too often, these professionals find it difficult to obtain recognition and responsibility, and leave their firms when their initial hopes turn to discouragement. Why does this happen over and over?
An important key to this puzzle lies in the process of skill development in professional work.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a bright light on extant structural inequality. Differences in labor market outcomes and economic security between unionized and non-unionized workers are no exception. It has become increasingly clear that non-unionized workers are less shielded from the economic impacts of the pandemic and that many of these workers are disproportionately Black and Hispanic.
Unions do a great deal to challenge economic inequality. Unions do this by increasing baseline wages among workers, stabilizing promotion decisions reducing their arbitrariness, and providing other resources like job training and skill development. Although unionization benefits all workers, its effects are particularly apparent among already marginalized groups.
As many as 1 in 3 Americans have some type of criminal record. Many of them face multiple barriers to employment.
In 2018, 95 percent of employers conducted background checks during the hiring process, which was up from 70 percent of the employers surveyed in 2012. In addition, many state occupational licensing laws prohibit people with criminal records from joining licensed professions. These barriers, coupled with the persistent social stigma surrounding past arrest and conviction records, mean that employment prospects are grim for a substantial segment of the U.S. population.
Within this social context, the United States military happens to be one of the largest employers to regularly hire people with a criminal record. However, we know little about their lives, other than that people with a criminal record perform equally well or better than their counterparts without a criminal record.
At the same time that union density in the United States has declined and labor law has withered, employment law has flourished, proliferating at the subnational level and expanding into new substantive domains (see Figures 1 and 2 below).
As a result, for the vast majority of 21st century workers, what rights and protections remain come not from labor law and the mechanism of collective bargaining, but from employment laws and the mechanisms of regulation and litigation.
Existing studies on how information and communication technologies influence work find that workers use digital media to control their work-life boundaries. But in China, social media is all pervasive with a permanent memory. There is no escape in time or space, and resistance is futile.
In a recent article, I examine how workplace subordinates interact with their supervisors on WeChat, the most popular app in China. I find that lower-ranked individuals are compelled to constantly express their loyalty and appreciation and publicly submit to their superiors by clicking “like” or commenting on their posts. They also have to provide immediate and polite responses to their superordinates in WeChat group chats after work hours and with respect to non-work-related issues.
Social class is arguably the greatest barrier to advancement at work, yet it is mostly ignored by companies’ diversity, inclusion and equity efforts. In a recent study with Jean Oh, we found that in the U.S., individuals from lower social-class origins face disadvantages at least as large as women and Black Americans in terms of becoming a manager. In most countries around the globe, we found, the social-class disadvantage is even greater than it is in the U.S.! And, the social class disadvantage impacts a lot of people—around the world, more people identify with lower than higher social classes.
Of course, individuals from lower social class origins suffer losses because they are less likely to become managers, as managerial roles are associated with job satisfaction, health, and income. But companies and countries also suffer from this exclusion.
Since the 1970s, there has been a global resurgence of sweatshop working conditions in numerous industries, from apparel to high-tech electronics to agriculture. In their attempts to improve their working conditions, however, these workers are often not struggling alone, but have a range of allies, from local labor rights and human rights organizations to social justice groups in the US and Europe.
One of the groups in the US that has been particularly successful in supporting sweatshop workers is United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), a national network of students at colleges and universities. They have helped workers in factories around the world unionize and improve their working conditions.
What may be most surprising about USAS’ strategy to many observers is that USAS does not normally use what might think is the most obvious strategy against apparel companies using sweatshop labor—the boycott. Why? Because the workers they seek to help oppose such boycotts.
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.
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.