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Precarious work is now at the forefront of much academic research and journalism, and with good reason. These investigations show that precarious employment has led to increased instability, insecurity, and vulnerability for a significant and growing population of workers.

Yet I believe there is more work to do in this vein. We need to identify how this sprawling sector of the economy is changing the rules of employment for workers. Because all workers—and disadvantaged workers in particular—who are already “playing” this “game” on an unequal playing field are losing rights and power at work.

An example of this much-needed research is the recent report by Reveal News’ Will Evans, which documents racism, sexism, and other discriminatory hiring practices in temp agencies. As this report shows, at least some employers are outsourcing illegal discrimination to the temporary help industry. Yet such practices are obscured—and, therefore, largely undetected—because of the convoluted structure of temp work and lagging employment law. In particular, the originator of the discrimination is obscured because the employers who insist, for example, that temp agencies send only “country boys” (i.e., white men) or “mujeres” (i.e., Hispanic women) are not the legal employer of record and are therefore not held responsible for illegal hiring practices. Meanwhile, the enactor of the discrimination—those temp agency managers so eager to keep companies’ business that they readily engage in illegal practices—can easily hide behind the presumed precarity of the temp economy, dishonestly telling only some temps that no jobs are available or that their jobs have been suddenly canceled.

This is not an inevitable outcome of the temp economy, but when such illegal actions are unregulated and overlooked, it is not surprising that they have become one of the ways that employers use temp agencies to change the rules of the labor market for workers.

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Image: Paul Townsend via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Image: Paul Townsend via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

by Devah Pager & David S. Pedulla

Discrimination in hiring continues to limit the opportunities available to racial minorities, with important consequences for their economic security and career trajectories. But, how do racial minorities respond to this reality when they are searching for employment? Some argue that job seekers tailor their searches in ways that allow them to avoid discrimination. Others suggest that job seekers adapt by casting a wider net in their search.

Until now, we have known little about this process, largely because no existing data source has closely followed individuals through their job search. In recent research, we attempt to address this limitation by drawing on two original datasets that track job seekers and the positions to which they apply. The results of our study point to three general conclusions about patterns of self-selection and job search:

1) Broader Job Search among African Americans than Whites: African Americans cast a wider net in their job search than similarly situated whites. Specifically, they include a greater range of occupation types and occupational characteristics among the jobs to which they apply. For example, consider one of our respondents whose last job was as a “material moving worker.” Over the course of the survey, this respondent applied for jobs consistent with his prior work experience, such as “material handler” and “warehouse worker.” However, the respondent also reported applying for jobs in retail sales, as an IT technician, a delivery driver, a security guard, a mailroom clerk, and a short order cook. This respondent applied to jobs in a total of seven distinct occupations over the course of the survey, reflecting a fairly broad approach to job search. While this is just one example, in both of the datasets we examined African Americans systematically applied to a larger number of distinct job types than whites with similar levels of education and work experience.

2) Narrower Job Search among Women than Men: Our study demonstrates that the search strategy of African Americans appears very different from that of women. Women self-select into distinctive (and highly gendered) occupational categories, considering a narrower range of occupational types and characteristics over the course of their job search relative to similarly situated men.

3) Labor Market Discrimination Appears to Drive Search Behavior: We find that perceptions of or experiences with racial discrimination play an important role in explaining the greater search breadth exhibited by African American job seekers. Individuals who have witnessed or experienced racial discrimination in the workplace are more likely to cast a wide net in their job search relative to those without such experience.

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Image: May S. Young via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Image: May S. Young via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

By Sean Waite and Nicole Denier

Over the last two decades there has been a growing interest in the labor market outcomes of gay men and lesbians. It has long been acknowledged that labor markets are stratified along multiple dimensions, such as gender, race and nativity. More recently new data has shed light on how labor market opportunities and rewards may also differ by sexual orientation. So far research has generally found that gay men earn less than straight men and lesbians earn more than straight women (in our work we show that this still means earning less than all men).

In most cases wage differences cannot be explained by differences in individual characteristics or choices, like weeks and hours worked, socio-demographic factors, education, and occupation or industry of employment. Researchers often interpret any wage gap that remains after accounting for these characteristics as discrimination. In other words, it is argued that employers and customers have a preference working with or doing business with straight men, rather than gay men. The wage advantage for lesbians relative to straight women is commonly interpreted as positive discrimination, i.e. since lesbians are less likely to be married and have fewer children, employers perceive them as more committed and less encumbered by family responsibilities than straight women. Taken another way, lesbians may experience less discrimination than straight women because they are perceived to be less encumbered by family and childcare responsibilities. But research so far has been limited by two big things. First, many data collection agencies don’t ask about sexual orientation in surveys (a great summary of this issue can be found on the Family Inequality blog), and if/when they do, it is often not asked in the context of questions about work situation. Second, research often focuses on one particular source of pay differences at a time, making it hard to evaluate the major factors driving wage inequality for gay men and lesbians.

Using Canadian Census data, we explore how various mechanisms contribute to wage gaps between gay men and straight men and lesbians and straight women, focusing on areas that researchers have identified as key determinants of how much people earn, including a 1) education and weeks/hours worked, 2) occupation and industry of employment, 3) sector of employment, and 4) family situation.

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Image: pixabay.com

Image: pixabay.com

by Michael L. Rosino, Devon R. Goss, and Matthew W. Hughey

One only need picture the typical American corporate boss (white, male, and wealthy) in order to conjure up the history of discrimination and inequality within the business realm. Over the past few decades, business leaders have attempted to address these problems through efforts oriented at increasing diversity. For instance, in 2014, major tech companies including Google, Apple, Twitter, and Facebook released their diversity statistics in reports to the media under pressure from journalists and activists. While the reports revealed the overwhelming white masculinity of the modern corporation, the companies still framed their statistics as reflecting their commitment to diversity.

The release of these reports garnered media speculation about the causes of this lack of racial and gender diversity and the implications for the future of race and gender inequalities. Alongside news publications such as the New York Times and Washington Post, articles in business media outlets such as Forbes, Businessweek, and The Wall Street Journal also weighed in on “Silicon Valley’s Diversity Problem” as these elements of the 4th estate have long discussed diversity initiatives in the business world.

Despite the active discussion on the wide spectrum of abstract issues around diversity, business media outlets generally present business diversity in highly specific terms. Activists and scholars might argue that diversity—especially along the lines of race, gender, and sexuality in the business sphere—matters due to concerns about macroeconomic stability, ethical fairness, and/or social justice. However, articles published in business media outlets often discuss the merits of business diversity efforts solely in terms of the “business case” for diversity.

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Teen barista

Source: Wikimedia Commons

On a bitterly cold day, Josh, like many other teenagers, traveled many miles to get to the coffee shop, where he works part-time. Despite experiencing car troubles, nearly having a car accident, and spending hours in heavy traffic, he arrived at the coffee shop only to do a double shift, carry heavy loads of garbage in the cold, and deal with a hectic day of selling hot beverages to demanding customers.

Even though his school was in session, he chose to come to work instead of going to class at the local college, where he is getting his degree in theater and humanities. When I asked him why he chose his work over his studies, he told me they need him here: “Nobody notices when I am not [in class].” Unlike at school, they notice him at work. He feels needed—like a hot cup of cocoa on a cold day.

Josh, like many other teenagers, works “part-time” while still in school, but do not be fooled by what he calls part-time work. “Part-time” sounds like a few hours of work scattered throughout the week, but he was at the coffee shop every day of the past week. Even on the days when he was not scheduled to work, he stopped by to hang out with his friends. He did not just stand idly by; he also helped the friends who were working.

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News of improvement in the January jobs report shows that that there is cause for some optimism. The job market appears to be stable, and jobs are being added. Even the rise in unemployment indicates that those who had previously given up looking for work have returned to the labor market. However, there is still cause for concern.

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AAgradorangeRising productivity, profitability and stock prices have long been heralded as signs of economic recovery from the Great Recession.  Many segments of the population, however, have yet to experience any relief.  Initially concentrated among the upper classes, gains in employment, income and wealth have gradually spread to middle America, but many groups, including race/ethnic minorities and young people have been left behind.

Young people suffered a disproportionate share of job losses in the recession, and current trends suggest that they will be among the last to share in the benefits of economic recovery.  Although a college degree offers some protections in a competitive labor market, it is not uncommon for recent college graduates (males somewhat more than females) to struggle with unemployment for many months following graduation.  Many who do find jobs are underemployed – working fewer hours than they would like or in jobs for which they are overqualified

With an unemployment rate roughly double that of their white counterparts, young African American college graduates have even greater difficulty securing employment.  The Center for Economic and Policy Research reports that in 2013, 12.4 percent of African American college graduates age 22-27 were unemployed, compared to 5.6 of all college graduates in this age group, and more than half of those who had jobs were underemployed.  Those with degrees in the highly sought-after STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fared little better, with unemployment and underemployment rates of 10 percent and 32 percent respectively.

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