Discussions about the future of work are clearly in the air.
This week, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez is convening a three-day symposium on the issue. Simultaneously, the Brookings Institution hosted a discussion about the implications of the “gig” economy for work and employment policy. At MIT, we are also planning a similar conversation for early next year.
And in Silicon Valley, leaders of high-tech companies and worker advocates have recently started discussing new ways to offer benefits to contract workers following several high-profile cases in which Uber drivers and others have sued to be considered regular employees and gain the accompanying benefits.
All this couldn’t come at a better moment, but time is of the essence. Unless talk leads to actions to change the course of the economy and labor market, the next generation of workers is destined to experience a lower standard of living than their parents – the opposite of the American Dream.
President Obama’s job plan has triggered lots of talk if not action. With the economy struggling, any conversation about job creation is good news. But from the President on down, we sometimes pay too much attention to the number of jobs being produced and not nearly enough attention to the quality of those jobs.
In Good Jobs America: Making Work Better for Everyone (Russell Sage Foundation), a book co-authored by me and Beth Shulman being released this month, we document how a very large percentage of American adults today work in jobs that pay at levels below what is needed for a decent standard of living.
The main focus of our book is to show how bad jobs can be made into good ones. We show that education is a necessary but not sufficient element in the solution, that the persistence of low wage work cannot be laid at the door of immigration, and that it is possible to improve job quality without negatively impacting economic growth.
Thomas Kochan, Co-director, MIT Institute for Work and Employment Research
According to the World Commission on Environment and Development, a “sustainable” economy must meet the needs of the present while not compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. By this standard, the American economy is definitely unsustainable: It is not creating enough jobs to meet the current or future population’s needs and the long term trend in job quality is destined to produce a declining standard of living for today and tomorrow’s workers.
June’s dismal unemployment numbers are just the latest indicators. The economy created only 18,000 new jobs (about 130,000 less than needed just to keep up with the growth in the labor force) and unemployment rose to 9.2%. Moreover, hourly wages over the past year lagged increases in prices by 1.5%.
These numbers, coming on the back of an equally bad report last month make it painfully obvious that the nation needs a new, aggressive, and comprehensive employment strategy, one that creates jobs directly and successfully engages business and labor in efforts to build a sustainable recovery and economic future. Read More »