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Degraded Work

The Struggle at the Bottom of the Labor Market

2013
Author:

Marc Doussard

Degraded Work

Why service-sector jobs have gotten worse—and what can be done to improve pay and working conditions for low-wage workers

Drawing on fieldwork in Chicago, Degraded Work examines changes in two industries in which inferior job quality is assumed to be intrinsic: residential construction and food retail. Arguing that a growing service sector does not have to mean growing inequality, Marc Doussard proposes creative policy and organizing opportunities to improve job quality despite the overwhelming barriers to national political action.

Marc Doussard posits a new interpretation of the 2001 to 2006 profit-wage disjuncture that is innovative and fresh. This is the stuff of truly innovative urban-economic analysis.

David Wilson, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Critics on the left and the right typically agree that globalization, the loss of manufacturing jobs, and the expansion of the service sector have led to income inequality and rising numbers of low-paying jobs with poor working conditions.

In Degraded Work, Marc Doussard demonstrates that this decline in wages and working conditions is anything but the unavoidable result of competitive economic forces. Rather, he makes the case that service sector and other local-serving employers have boosted profit with innovative practices to exploit workers, demeaning their jobs in new ways—denying safety equipment, fining workers for taking scheduled breaks, requiring unpaid overtime—that go far beyond wage cuts. Doussard asserts that the degradation of service work is a choice rather than an inevitability, and he outlines concrete steps that can be taken to help establish a fairer postindustrial labor market.

Drawing on fieldwork in Chicago, Degraded Work examines changes in two industries in which inferior job quality is assumed to be intrinsic: residential construction and food retail. In both cases, Doussard shows how employers degraded working conditions as part of a successful and intricate strategy to increase profits. Arguing that a growing service sector does not have to mean growing inequality, Doussard proposes creative policy and organizing opportunities that workers and advocates can use to improve job quality despite the overwhelming barriers to national political action.

Degraded Work

Marc Doussard is assistant professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. He has worked with community and labor organizations in Chicago and elsewhere since 2000.

Degraded Work

Marc Doussard posits a new interpretation of the 2001 to 2006 profit-wage disjuncture that is innovative and fresh. This is the stuff of truly innovative urban-economic analysis.

David Wilson, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Distinctive and pioneering, Degraded Work analyzes the areas of excess profit within two sectors that are often viewed as very close to perfectly competitive, smaller scale neighborhood retail and residential construction. These detailed analyses help make a broader case that low wages and precarious work are not inevitable. Doussard integrates these elements into an instructive polemic against some popular but oversimplified analyses of urban and labor market restructuring, introducing the concept of degraded work to capture the changes he observes.

Chris Tilly, UCLA

Degraded Work

Contents

Introduction: The Boom in Poorly Paid and Precarious Jobs
1. New Inequalities: The Deterioration of Local-Serving Industries
2. Beyond Low Wages: The Problem of Degraded Work
3. The City That Sweats Work: Growth and Inequality in Post-Fordist Chicago
4. Oases in the Midst of Deserts: How Food Retailers Thrive in Disinvested Neighborhoods
5. “They’re Happy to Have a Job”: Mid-Size Supermarkets and Degraded Work
6. Building Degradation: Dangerous Work and Falling Pay during a Construction Boom
7. A Perfectly Flexible Workforce: Day Labor in a Precarious Industry
8. New Answers to New Problems: The Creative Work of Reversing Degradation
Conclusion: Building a Fair Labor Market in Post-Manufacturing Economies

Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliography
Index