Steven Dawson (founder and former CEO of Heron investee Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute) has released the first in a series of papers on “good” jobs he is penning for the Pinkerton Foundation. This Pinkerton Paper looks at the damage caused to employees by financial instability and offers recommendations for a “Good Jobs Strategy” moving forward.
Dawson looks at research [PDF] supporting some counter-intuitive conclusions, including that many low-income people would prefer an improvement in stability over an improvement in overall income levels. The stress and difficulty of dealing with unpredictable work and income is a heavy burden that impacts workers in a variety of ways:
A bad job destabilizes the individual, her family and the community. A bad job not only fails to pay enough for decent food and shelter for a worker’s family, it can risk her health, disrupt any chance for a predictable family life, undermine her dignity, and deny her voice within the workplace. …
Moving from instability to stability means moving beyond earning $6,000 or $8,000/year; patching together several seasonal jobs; not knowing when you’ll be called to show up for your next part-time shift; living doubled up with another family; surviving on charity and friends. It means instead securing a more stable worklife, in a job that earns $20,000 or $25,000/year; along with health and other benefits; with access to Earned Income Tax Credits; in a safe working environment where you are trained well and supervised well; and most importantly where both your work, and you, are genuinely respected.
Dawson provides a number of practical suggestions for employers to improve job quality, including redesigning scheduling to provide more consistent hours and eliciting improvement ideas from frontline workers. He warns, however, that a strong business model and operational excellence both precede “high road employment” and boost its effectiveness as an investment in the business itself.
Dawson also argues that there aren’t enough jobs to move every member of the working class into the middle class and that this inappropriate goal contributes to overly education-focused anti-poverty strategies that burden people with education that won’t result in a better job or life:
The hard reality is that most low-income people will never become middle-class, often for reasons far beyond their control. Yet that does not mean they cannot live lives of dignity; that they cannot still be proud of the work they do as house cleaners, as construction workers, as truck drivers or as waitresses.
We therefore should not limit our strategies in ways that help only a relative few achieve a professional’s definition of success, when a working family’s definition of success may be something far more immediate, and with thoughtful support, truly within grasp.
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