But most compelling is her review of the vicious cycle of low-wage workers whose children are more likely to also fall into poverty and low-wage jobs. This is a problem still evident today in the country. Lee Rainwater and Timothy Smeeding also allude to this fact in their writing titled, Is There Hope for America’s Low-Income Children when they state, “When we found ourselves discussing the large federal and states surpluses at the beginning of the twenty-first century that was a period when we could have made a serious commitment to child poverty in the United States.
This opportunity was missed” (Eitzen, p. 27). Shulman also discusses the four myths that dominate the debate about low-wage work: 1. Myth: Low-wage jobs are merely a short-lived step on a ladder to a better job. The reality? “Low-wage jobs, historically, have had few career ladders. Today they offer even fewer” (p. 102) 2. Myth: Improving worker skills is the primary solution to problem of low-wage work. The reality? “The ‘skills mismatch’ theory is a significant overstatement of the demand for high-skilled workers…
The overwhelming majority of occupations require only a high-school education or less” (p. 104). 3. Myth: Because of global competition, U. S. companies are unable to do anything to improve the lives of low-wage workers. The reality? “Very few low-wage jobs are now in globally competitive industries… most lower-wage jobs are and will continue to be in the non-tradable service and retail sectors” (p. 110). 4. Myth: Volunteerism is a substitute for social policy. The reality? We wouldn’t need so many volunteers working in shelters and soup kitchens if jobs actually paid a living wage.
By far, Shulman’s greatest feat, and one I agree with wholeheartedly, in The Betrayal of Work is her last chapter in which she discusses a compact for working Americans. She states; This society needs to agree on a new set of principles – a compact with working Americans — that establishes obligations and responsibilities of employers and government to workers. This compact has a simple and clear purpose: workers should be assured that if they work hard they will be treated fairly and have the resources to provide for themselves and their families (p.149).
Shulman’s Compact with Working Americans includes but is not limited to the following: Providing a sufficient income to meet a family’s basic needs Affordable healthcare coverage Flexibility and support for family issues Opportunities to gain new skills Affordable and safe housin Safe and healthy work environment Security in times of economic adversity and retirement The right to organize and collectively bargain Fair trade and immigration policies.
Bottom line advice: some may see this book as just another liberal spouting liberal doctrines and policies that will unfairly burden employers, but if you put aside the politics and focus on the people, the 30 million low-wage, near-poverty workers, you come away with the idea of this book as the textbook for changing how we view and treat these vital members of the workforce, these vital humans and fellow citizens. This book should be a must-read for all students, business leaders, and politicians alike. Today, Americans can make different choices.
Politicians should call for a compact with working Americans that establishes the mutual obligations and responsibilities of employers, workers, and government. The compact would have a simple and clear purpose: It would insure that if you work hard you will be treated fairly and have the resources to provide for yourself and your family. One place to start is raising the minimum wage to at least $8. 00 and indexing it to inflation. The compact should require that industries receiving public funds through contracts, tax abatements or other subsidies provide quality jobs with benefits and living wages.
Access to affordable healthcare must be provided to all workers and their families. This in itself will be a monumental undertaking. Jerome Skolnick, author of Crisis in American Institutions, describes the reason why America’s healthcare system is substandard because of our “extreme reliance on the private market to deliver medical care” (p. 288). Workers need to know they can get time off to be with a sick child or an elderly parent without fear of losing their jobs or a day’s pay. Quality childcare and early education should be made available to their children.
And workers must have the right to organize without fear of intimidation, harassment, or being fired. In the past, we have established standards and rights to insure that older Americans would not be impoverished or go without healthcare, to prevent young children from working and to insure equal opportunity in employment regardless of race, religion, national origin, sex, or age. Now we must set standards to protect the well-being of all working families and the integrity of the nation. It is urgent, both morally and politically, for all political candidates to confront this critical issue.
Beth Shulman stumbled upon one simple fact. Low wage workers’ jobs fail them. A basic American understanding exists in “… if you worked hard, a livable income and basic securities were to be yours,” but if we still believe in this idea, “we are living a lie” (p. 13).
References Eitzen, D. S. (2006). Solutions to social problems: Lessons from other societies. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. Skolnick, J. & Currie, E. (2006). Crisis in American institutions (13th ed. ). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. Shulman, B. (2003). The Betrayal of Work: How Low-Wage Jobs Fail 30 Million Americans. New York, NY: The New Press.
United States Census Bureau (n. d. ). Poverty Thresholds 2007. Retrieved 11 March, 2008 from the U. S. Census Bureau Web site: http://www. census. gov United States Department of Labor (n. d. ) Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey: Retrieved 10 March, 2008 from the US Department of Labor Bureau of labor Statistics Web site: http://www. bls. gov/cps/ Summary 1 Show preview only The above preview is unformatted text This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our University Degree Social Work section.