Late last month, President Barack Obama took a step around the longstanding congressional gridlock over labor and employment policies by announcing a plan to boost the salary threshold governing overtime from US$23,600 to $50,440 and to index it to inflation.
Essentially, that means white collar workers in that salary range, currently exempt from being paid overtime, would get 1.5 times their hourly wages for anything over 40 hours.
The administration estimates this action will extend coverage to an additional five million workers who will either receive overtime pay or work fewer hours at the same salary, with some of their extra work shifted to part- or full-time hourly workers. Either way, the workforce and the economy will record a small win in efforts to raise wages and reduce income inequality.
I’ve been immersed in this issue for decades, including as a member of the Clinton administration’s Commission on the Future of Worker Management Relations in the early ‘90s and as codirector of the MIT Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research.
To reduce the persistently high unemployment rate in the United States, Congress should move to relax some of our current constraints on immigration.
This is a controversial idea because many people are under the impression that allowing in more immigrants would push up unemployment. But that would only be the case if the number of jobs in the US were an unchanging constant. Read More »
[Question] How did you get interested in researching long-term unemployment? What motivated you to write your book and start the Institute for Career Transitions (ICT)?
[Professor Sharone] I got interested in this issue as a graduate student. I was doing a PhD in Sociology at UC Berkeley, and my initial research was actually about high-tech workers and long work hours. But at the time I was doing this research, the dot.com bubble burst around the year 2000. What was very surprising to me and to the people who got caught up in it more directly (that is, the workers), was the number of people who had done everything that society told them you need to do to be successful–they went to college, they sometimes had masters degrees or PhD degrees, and years of working experience. And yet these individuals saw themselves unemployed and sometimes unable to get to any job for months and sometimes for years.
This was all around me as a graduate student, and even though it was not yet as big or brutal a national event as came later with the Great Recession, being in the Bay Area during this time was an early experience of what was to later come in 2008. So this is how I got into the issue, and I began doing interviews of unemployed individuals. I’m a qualitative sociologist, so I do in-depth interviews with people. I began asking people about the experience of job searching, how they understood the obstacles they faced, and I came to realize that looking for work is a kind of work in itself, and it’s probably among the hardest kinds of work that exist. It’s extremely emotionally difficult–it’s essentially straight up rejection. And I was very interested in how people felt with that, and in documenting some of the pain and hardship that people described to me.
I also became interested in comparing the experience of unemployed job seekers cross-nationally. My research became driven by the question, “Is what I’m seeing among American white-collar professionals universal for similar types of workers?” That question lead to my book, Flawed System, Flawed Self, which is a cross-national comparison of the experience of job searching and unemployment for this group of highly educated, skilled workers. I learned in the process how actually very different that experience can be–the sense of self-blame, and the emotional toll can be very different depending on how one needs to look for work.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently stirred up a firestorm of criticism for suggesting that silence is the key to success in the workplace—women shouldn’t ask for a pay raise or promotion but just let managers notice their good work and all will take care of itself. Though Nadella later backtracked from his remarks, it’s not just women who should take issue with that advice. It is exactly the wrong advice for everybody. It is time we all start speaking up for and at work for fairness, efficiency and mutual respect.
Just look at where “silence” has gotten us over the years.
We can start with the gap that has grown in wage and productivity growth over the past 30 years. As shown in the chart below, before that, from 1948 to about 1979, wages and productivity grew in tandem; thereby, expanding and strengthening the middle class and making it possible for baby boomers to live the American Dream of improving on the standard of living they experienced growing up. Since then, productivity rose 64.9%, and hourly compensation rose only 8.2%. The decline in the traditional vehicle for worker voice—trade unions and collective bargaining — accounts for a significant portion of this wage-productivity gap. It is clear that all workers should be speaking up at work for their collective and individual fair share of the economic progress they help produce.
Andrew McAfee, Co-Director of the Initiative on the Digital Economy
Andrew McAfee, MIT Sloan ’88, ’89, LGO ’90 and Co-Director of the Initiative on the Digital Economy, fielded questions in a one-hour AMA-style (ask me anything) Q&A on the “Second Machine Age.” The online conversation was co-hosted by the upcoming Digital Economy Conference in London, where he and Erik Brynjolfsson of MIT Sloan will facilitate a series of discussions that highlight MIT’s role in both understanding and shaping our increasingly digital economy. The conference will be Live Streamed beginning at 6:30 am to 1 pm EDT, Friday, April 10. To watch be sure to bookmark this page. Read More »