Beth Shulman, a lawyer and former vice president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, spent 3 years traveling around the United States talking to Americans who are struggling by on low wages. She presents her findings in The Betrayal of Work: How Low-Wage Jobs Fail 30 Million Americans. The book shows how the United States has neglected these workers, and how, despite the country’s vast wealth, American workers have lower living standards than comparable workers in other industrialized countries.
It concludes with a detailed call for policy reform to correct what stands as a national disgrace and a betrayal of America’s founding notions of fairness and equity. How Low-Wage Jobs Fail 30 Million Americans An astonishing 35 million Americans work full-time but do not make a living. They are nursing home workers, poultry processors, pharmacy assistants, ambulance drivers, child care workers, data entry keyers, and janitors to name a few. Indeed, one in four American workers lives in, or near, poverty.
Despite the great wealth of the United States, these low-wage workers have lower living standards than do similar workers in most other industrial nations, and over the last twenty years their wages have declined. This writing summarizes a book, The Betrayal of Work, written by Beth Shulman. For several years she traveled across the country talking to low-wage workers, and in her book, she tells the moving stories of people like Sara, a single mother of three who earns $6.
10 an hour, with no sick pay or vacation pay, after working almost a decade at a nursing home in Alabama. For Sara and others like her, writes Shulman, the basic promise of American society, if you work hard, you, and your family can make a decent living, has been broken. This fact in itself is the premise of the book and worth remembering as we expand our global economy and further widen the gap between the classes within our own borders. This most certainly is a situation that is and will continue to be a current human relations problem in the U.
S. Following World War II, economic growth in the United States meant a shared prosperity as tens of millions of American workers moved into an emerging middle class. Starting in the mid-1970s, however, real wages stopped growing and even declined for certain groups in the labor force. This was a marked reversal from the postwar economic boom. In fact, the fortunes of those in the bottom rungs of the labor market declined drastically. Between 1973 and 1993, the real income of the lowest 20th percentile of workers fell nearly 12 percent.
Today, according to the statistics put out by the United States Census Bureau, one out of four workers in the United States holds a job that pays less than $10. 20 an hour (around $21,386 per year working full-time), which is the official poverty line for a family of four. Most experts estimate that it takes double that amount for families to make ends meet. Although the United States still leads the world in overall prosperity and productivity, the American way of organizing work and rewarding workers no longer provides many hardworking families a piece of the American dream.
The Betrayal of Work examines the plight of one-quarter of the U. S. workforce, some 30 million workers, who are stuck in low-wage, low-benefit jobs. These jobs are described as low-skill jobs, but as Shulman aptly points out, all these jobs require skills, whether the job is as a retail clerk or a hotel maid. This text is about the workers who earn less than the federal poverty level, currently about $10 an hour for a family of four. This book is a comprehensive collection of all the studies on the working poor. The Betrayal of Work is a far from dry, scholarly reading.
It’s provocative and just a bit chilling, a myth-busting examination of how we allow employers to treat these under-educated, under-skilled, and under-valued members of the workforce. Interwoven with the facts and figures are some real-life tales of the working poor. And after reading these accounts, you may never eat poultry again, never take for granted the aide who watches over your mother in assisted living, never treat the housekeeping staff in your office as if they were from a different planet. Why should we care? We should care because fairness and equality are at the heart of this country’s beginnings.
Shulman notes that “Without change, a growing gap between the haves and the have-nots will continue to challenge our national solidarity and stability and will strain an already divisive America” (p. 12). Shulman goes on to give facts and figures on the types of jobs most typically low-wage (such as retail clerks, home health aides, child-care workers, call-center operators, security guards, janitors, agricultural workers, meat processors, and more) as well as the demographic profile of low-wage workers – typically white, female, little formal education, and with family responsibilities.