Studying low-wage work and low-wage workers brings historic and contemporary issues of inequality to the fore. Understanding the realities of low-wage employment and low-wage workers' lives is critical if we are to develop effective advocacy and intervention strategies that promote social, economic, and racial justice, while meeting people's immediate needs. Both quantitative and qualitative investigations are needed to shed light on the strengths, hardships, survival strategies, well-being, and aspirations of low-wage workers and their families, as well as on the community, organizational, and policy factors impacting workplaces and workers. To engage in such studies and to produce meaningful results requires us to collaborate with other interested stakeholders, be they unions, advocacy and community groups, employers, or individual workers.
The proposed roundtable brings together researchers and stakeholders involved in studying the effects of wage increases for low-wage workers, at a variety of sites and via a variety of methods. Participants include researchers conducting multiyear quantitative and qualitative studies of low-wage workers in health and security industries and union representatives representing these workers. The goal of this roundtable is to increase social work researchers' knowledge of the value and complexities of research involving university-community collaborations, as well as skills in addressing these complexities. The roundtable will identify challenges that arise in such collaborations, such as the development of respectful, egalitarian partnerships, the importance of communication, the challenges of balancing differing priorities and timelines, the need to maintain independent identities while working together, and the test of sustainability. Attendees will receive training in how to collaborate with community partners in addressing these challenges. The roundtable will provide perspectives that support the participation of social work researchers in collaborative investigations with community stakeholders and will highlight the importance of studying how low-wage work informs the lives of social work clients, as we work towards the SSWR theme of reducing racial and economic inequality.