Precarious Work: Volume 31

Cover of Precarious Work
Subject:

Table of contents

(18 chapters)

Prelims

Pages i-x
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Part I: Theory and Method

Abstract

The chapter elaborates a critical theoretical narrative about the political economy of European capitalism. It illustrates how precariousness has been exacerbated by the impact of the global financial crisis and the emergence of a new system of European governance. Theoretical accounts in the sociology of work and labor studies have demonstrated the complexity of the outcomes and widely discussed the role of national labor market institutions and employment policies and practices, political ideology, and cultural frameworks impinging upon precarious work as a multidimensional concept. The chapter’s core concern is to illustrate how shifts in power resources, and particularly the weakening and deinstitutionalization of organized labor relative to capital, has acted as a central social condition that has brought about precariousness during the years leading up to and following the 2007–2008 crisis. In so doing, the chapter aims to overcome the existing theoretical accounts of precariousness which have often been limited by one or another variant of “methodological nationalism,” thereby exploring the transnational apparatuses that are emerging across national economies to date, and which impinge upon the structures and experiences that workers exhibit in an age of growing marketization.

Abstract

To be denied the status of formal worker is to be denied the rights and protections of the formal sector. Such classification is a source of insecurity and uncertainty for many. When employers privilege disembedded employment arrangements, workers in precarious semi-formal settings face many financial and relational challenges, yet receive limited support. In hostile economic, social, and legal contexts, what practices and discourses do these workers draw on to respond to their work situations? When, and against whom, do they struggle for labor embeddedness? Analyses of ethnographic and interview data from two fieldwork projects studying semi-formal work – one study of inmate labor in a US prison and one of a local independent culture industry – reveal that workers engage in collective and independent classification struggles in search of formal and symbolic reclassification. A typology of such struggles is presented. By viewing these practices through this lens, this chapter aims to reveal parallels in the experiences of workers in seemingly disconnected fields and advance our understanding of worker action and embeddedness in contemporary capitalism.

Abstract

Currently, a much-debated issue concerns the social and political significance of the emergence of the precariat, a social class consisting of people for whom uncertainty and unpredictability of life circumstances and employment relations make it impossible to plan for the future, forcing them to live on a day-to-day basis (Standing, 2011). However, it remains unclear how the precariat may be defined and operationalized. On the one hand, treating non-standard employment arrangements (fixed-term contracts, temporary agency work, etc.) as a basis for identifying precarious jobs is likely to be misleading, as research has shown non-standard employment to be heterogeneous with respect to working conditions and chances for achieving stabilization. On the other hand, subjective perceptions of security may also be misleading as indicators of precarity, as they are compounded by psychological coping mechanisms and perceptions of reference group status. This analysis attempts to disentangle the complex relationships between non-standard employment and perceived insecurity in order to provide grounds for a more adequate conceptualization and measurement of job precarity. Specifically, I assess the extent to which the relationship between worker contractual status and perceived job, labor market, and employment insecurity is conditional on various characteristics of workers, their jobs, and their households, taking into account the country-level economic and institutional context. The analysis is based on multi-level regression models using data from the 2010 European Working Conditions Survey.

Part II: Precarious Work in the United States

Abstract

Using a sample of 214 US metropolitan areas, we examine the connection between the Great Recession and bad jobs, taking into consideration the macro-level determinants of the troubled economy. Our measure of bad jobs is derived from Kalleberg, Reskin, and Hudson’s (2000) conceptualization as those that have low pay, lack health insurance, and lack pension plans. We find that the Great Recession increased the prevalence of bad jobs, consistently for men and selectively for women. Among the macro-level processes, the decline of the manufacturing base, union membership, and public sector employment are sources of increasing bad jobs, especially for men. Those macro-level processes which are growing in influence such as casualization, globalization and financialization show no signs of reversing the negative trends in bad jobs. Human capital variables in the labor market such as educational and age variability consistently suggest more adverse effects on bad jobs for men than women. Our findings contribute to the further understanding of the nature of precarious work in a troubled economy.

Abstract

Hackathons, time-bounded events where participants write computer code and build apps, have become a popular means of socializing tech students and workers to produce “innovation” despite little promise of material reward. Although they offer participants opportunities for learning new skills and face-to-face networking and set up interaction rituals that create an emotional “high,” potential advantage is even greater for the events’ corporate sponsors, who use them to outsource work, crowdsource innovation, and enhance their reputation. Ethnographic observations and informal interviews at seven hackathons held in New York during the course of a single school year show how the format of the event and sponsors’ discursive tropes, within a dominant cultural frame reflecting the appeal of Silicon Valley, reshape unpaid and precarious work as an extraordinary opportunity, a ritual of ecstatic labor, and a collective imaginary for fictional expectations of innovation that benefits all, a powerful strategy for manufacturing workers’ consent in the “new” economy.

Abstract

We critique existing literature on the rise of precarious work because of its inattention to the historical organization of work by race and gender. We use intersectional theory to develop a racial–gender lens on precarious work, asking how do race, gender, and educational attainment shape exposure to insecure work. Historically, Blacks pursued education to mitigate against labor market discrimination with uneven success. Education has traditionally protected against exposure to precarious employment, but this association has weakened in recent years and the persistence of differential returns to human capital suggests that the relationship between education and insecure work may be racially contingent. We assess risk of exposure to precarious nonstandard work for racial and gender groups from 1979 to 2015 using data drawn from the CPS-MORG. We find that education is not equally protective across demographic groups and over time, contributing to inequality in access to stable, standard employment.

Abstract

Professional careers have become more precarious in recent decades. Corporations today engage in downsizing even during profitable times, a practice that impacts workers throughout the labor force, including those with advanced degrees. Using a case study of women geoscientists in the oil and gas industry, I investigate how the increasing precariousness of professional careers reinforces gender inequality. The compressed cycle of booms and busts in the oil and gas industry permits an investigation into how women fare in precarious professional jobs. Extending gendered organization theory, I argue that three mechanisms are built into professional careers today that enhance women’s vulnerability to layoffs: teamwork, career maps, and networking. I illustrate how these mechanisms disadvantage women with in-depth portraits of three geoscientists who lost their jobs during the recent downturn in oil prices. Their personal narratives, collected over a 3-year period of boom and bust, reveal how a particular multinational corporation is structured in ways that favor the white men who dominate their industry. The rhetoric of diversity obscures the workings of gendered organizations during good times, but when times get tough, management’s decisions about whom to lay off belies the routine practices the reproduce men’s advantages within the industry.

Part III: International Perspectives on Precarious Work

Abstract

Long considered the classic coordinated market economy featuring employment security and relatively little employment precarity, the German labor market has undergone profound changes in recent decades. We assess the evidence for a rise in precarious employment in Germany from 1984 to 2013. Using data from the German Socio-Economic Panel through the Luxembourg Income Study, we examine low-wage employment, working poverty, and temporary employment. We also analyze changes in the demographics and the education/skill level of the German labor force. Although employment overall has increased, there has been a simultaneous significant increase in earnings and wage inequality. Moreover, there has been a clear increase in all three measures of precarious employment. The analyses reveal that models including a wide variety of independent variables – demographic, education/skill, job/work characteristics, and region – cannot explain the rise of precarious employment. Instead, we propose institutional change is the most plausible explanation. In addition to reunification and major social policy and labor market reforms, we highlight the dramatic decline of unionization among German workers. We conclude that while there are elements of stability to the German coordinated market economy, Germany increasingly exhibits substantial dualization, liberalization, inequality, and precarity.

Abstract

Over the last few decades, precarious work rose as an important feature of socioeconomic insecurity in contemporary Europe. The following study asks: How do labor market institutions and labor market conditions shape work precarity in Europe? This research captures the elusive concept of precarious work by measuring the degree to which a job (1) is insecure and uncertain, (2) offers poor prospects of career mobility, and (3) puts workers in an economically insecure position with low pay. Building on two theoretical paradigms, the Varieties of Capitalism and the Power Resource Theory, this study derives and tests hypotheses about how macro-level factors shape the variation in the distribution of precarious work in 32 European countries. Combining individual-level data from the 2010 European Working Conditions Survey with country-level data from multiple sources, my findings suggest that work precarity decreases in countries with high percentages of employees in all enterprises receiving continual training, high percentages of all enterprises providing on-the-job training for employees, and high levels of spending on active labor market policies.

Abstract

In this chapter, we aim to illustrate some of the forms taken by informal employment in the global south and how these can best be understood by adopting a wider analytical lens than has been applied in much of the precarious employment literature. We draw on the findings of a recent study of the working conditions of urban informal workers from 10 cities in the global south. The study consisted of focus groups (15 in each city) conducted through the framework of a participatory informal economy appraisal as well as a survey of 1,957 home-based workers, street vendors, and waste pickers. Our findings illustrate a number of ways in which these three groups of informal workers are embedded within the formal economy. While they are not engaged in wage employment, they play subordinate roles to both formal sector firms within global production networks and unequal production relations and to the state through, inter alia, constrained access to public spaces and regulation. In order to interpret these findings, we apply Agarwala’s (2009) “relational” lens to demonstrate how risks and costs are transferred to workers who constitute the “real economy” in much of the global south. Given the often disguised connections between informal employment and the formal economy, this approach also provides a bridge to understanding precarious working conditions and the effects of globalization outside of the industrialized north.

Abstract

The growing incidence of precarious employment across many sectors is a serious challenge for a developing country like India. Neo-liberal arguments justify precarity as essential for the development of the free market economy and advocate realigning human resource practices with an ever-changing business environment and labor cost conditions. This chapter seeks to identify the determinants and dynamics surrounding precarity of workers engaged in temporary employment in India. It uses the unique Employment and Unemployment Survey data set published by the National Sample Survey Organisation of Government of India for two time periods 2009–2010 (66th Round) and 2011–2012 (68th Round) to bring out the dimensions of precarity and identify the determinants (both micro- and macro-levels) of participation in temporary employment. We find that precarious employment is most likely to affect the young, women, non-union members, those belonging to minority and socially deprived communities with low land holding and low educational status. Precarious employment is also most pronounced in states where labor-intensive industries are exposed to global import competition and where labor laws are rigid. The chapter concludes by discussing the implications of these findings for the economic and social policies that Indian governments have adopted in recent years.

Part IV: The Consequences of Precarious Work

Abstract

Research on job precarity and job instability have largely neglected the labor market trajectories in which these employment and non-employment situations are experienced. This study addresses the mechanisms of volatility and precarity in observed work histories of labor market entrants using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth of 1997. Several ideal-typical post-education pathways are modeled for respondents entering the labor force between 1997 and 2010, with varying indicators and degrees of precarity. A series of predictive models indicate that women, racial-ethnic minorities, and lower social class labor market entrants are significantly more likely to be exposed to the most precarious early careers. Moreover, leaving the educational system with a completed associate’s, bachelor’s, or post-graduate degree is protective of experiencing the most unstable types of career pattern. While adjusting for these individual-level background and education variables, the findings also reveal a form of “scarring” as regional unemployment level is a significant macro-economic predictor of experiencing a more hostile and turbulent early career. These pathways lead to considerable earnings penalties 5 years after labor market entry.

Abstract

Using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY79) from 1979 to 2008, this study examines how employment precarity is associated with the transition to first marriage. Building upon research on precarious work and economic determinants of marriage, I employ various measures of precarious work, including health insurance coverage, the provision of pension benefits, and part-time work. Results from the discrete-time hazard models show that precarious work delays men’s marriage entry more than women’s. For men, all indicators of precarious work decrease the odds of first marriage by up to 40%. Compared to men, women’s entry into first marriage is delayed when they have part-time employment. My study findings contribute to the theoretical discussions of the causes of family inequality, which have suggested the precarization of work and associated deterioration of job quality as one of the leading influences on the retreat from marriage. Further, results of this study indicate that the spread of precarious work has profound social consequences through its impact on family formation. In light of limited empirical research on the impact of precarious work on non-work-related outcomes, subsequent research needs to continue examining how employment precarity and family inequality are intertwined with various substantive foci across societies.

Abstract

Highly educated and skilled contract workers come from a range of occupations, have different worker characteristics, and work under organizational practices that are precarious in varied ways. Our current understanding of the experience of contract work does not fully encompass this diversity. This chapter focuses on early-career contract workers who contract across national borders – an increasingly prevalent but little understood phenomenon – to broaden our understanding of contract work. I draw on an analysis of 38 in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 30 international and early-career contract workers in the United Nations (UN) system in Geneva, Switzerland. Eight participants were included in follow-up interviews. I find that my participants demonstrate flexibility to their employer. They accept uncertain and short-term contracts, because they hope to secure longer-term positions within the prestigious UN system. Demonstrating flexibility impacts them, their relationships, and has financial implications as participants center the demands of their contracts. At times, participants place limits on how much uncertainty they will bear. This chapter thus illuminates the experiences of an understudied group of contract workers – early-career workers in transnational settings – who fall within the broad umbrella of contract workers. It highlights how even elite workers experience challenges as they engage in contract work.

About the Authors

Pages 455-461
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Index

Pages 463-466
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Cover of Precarious Work
DOI
10.1108/S0277-2833201731
Publication date
2017-12-19
Book series
Research in the Sociology of Work
Editors
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
ISBN
978-1-78743-288-8
eISBN
978-1-78743-287-1
Book series ISSN
0277-2833