Research That Matters (January 17 - 20, 2008)

Sunday, January 20, 2008: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Empire Ballroom (Omni Shoreham)
[P/C] Shifting the Research Focus to Include Individuals and Institutions: the Perils and Prospects of Improving Today's Low-Wage Jobs
Symposium Organizer:Roberta Rehner Iversen, PhD, University of Pennsylvania
Discussant (Optional):Julia R. Henly, PhD, University of Chicago
"Not Just Any Job": Understanding and Operationalizing "Quality Employment" for Economic Development in the Global World of Work
Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, PhD
Responsive Workplaces for Workers in Lower-Wage Hourly Jobs: Positive Benefits for Workers and Employers
Jennifer E. Swanberg, PhD
The Perils and Prospects of Flexibility in Low-Wage Jobs
Susan J. Lambert, PhD
The Research-Informed Shift from Individual Job Training Programs to Workforce Development Networks
Roberta Rehner Iversen, PhD
Abstract Text:
Overview Although policy and labor market changes impact low-wage workers, most current research is conducted among individuals—generally, female welfare recipients or leavers. While valuable, the sole research focus on individuals neglects examination of work itself or of other labor market institutions that affect the ability of individuals to navigate employment, family and policy. For example, although welfare and workforce policies mandate job placement, elimination of employer-provided training and benefits and changing workplace practices constrain the work efforts of many. Moreover, because about one in three full-time jobs across the U.S. (over forty million jobs) is low-wage, many families could benefit from concurrent social services, such as assistance accessing public benefits and post-employment intervention in the workplace itself. Implementing these kinds of social services and changing key labor market institutions requires the development of new knowledge bases and intervention competencies, as well as new government and workplace policies. Accordingly, a growing group of social work scholars, such as those in this symposium, have shifted their research focus to the intersection between individuals and labor market institutions to bring new knowledge to bear on such challenges. Overall, the findings in the symposium papers, which derive from multiple methods of research and analysis, illuminate how individuals and institutions intersect to shape job attainment, retention and advancement, and so doing suggest new avenues for practice, policy and inquiry. Specifically, the first paper shows that shifting the focus to individuals and institutions through ethnographic research and narrative analysis opens up new ways of providing employment and work supports to economically disadvantaged job seekers. Networks of firms, training and service organizations, and policymakers constitute a holistic and sustainable approach to improving economic outcomes. The lens of comparative organizational analysis in the second paper reveals the unintended, even perilous, consequences for workers and firms of using a “one-size-fits-all” strategy for scheduling in low-wage jobs. By shifting the focus to job conditions, through inquiry that uses multiple methods of data collection and multiple levels of analysis, new avenues are identified for achieving flexibility in ways that help protect the earnings of low-wage workers. The dual research focus in the third paper draws upon a national sample of low-wage retail workers to further refine understanding about which responsive workplace practices impact which employee and organization outcomes. Path analysis reveals the trajectories by which workplace factors variably influence employee well-being, work-family conflict and employee engagement. In the final paper, regression analyses of survey and qualitative interview data extend knowledge about how to define and operationalize “quality employment” from U.S., Japanese, and Czech Republic perspectives. These findings offer the prospect of improved workplace environments for workers and expanded economic development for employers and communities globally. In sum, more and more nations are trimming their welfare states and implementing primarily individually-focused policies. By attending to institutions as well as individuals, the research presented in this symposium identifies new directions for practice, policy and research useful for fostering the economic well-being of millions of workers in the U.S. and, increasingly, across the globe.

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