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Working and Living in the Shadow of Economic Fragility$
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Marion Crain and Michael Sherraden

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780199988488

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199988488.001.0001

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The Limits of Voluntary Employer Action for Improving Low-Level Jobs

The Limits of Voluntary Employer Action for Improving Low-Level Jobs

(p.120) 7 The Limits of Voluntary Employer Action for Improving Low-Level Jobs
Working and Living in the Shadow of Economic Fragility

Susan J. Lambert

Oxford University Press

The practices employers use to contain labor costs in low-level hourly jobs fuel economic insecurity and income inequality. Because labor costs in hourly jobs are mostly variable, not fixed, employers have an incentive to minimize the use of labor, placing workers at risk of underemployment, unpredictable schedules, and turnover. Although problems with worker performance abound when job quality is low, many of today’s jobs sever the link between worker performance and firm profitability, rendering voluntary improvement by employers unlikely. This chapter considers two strategies to improve the quality of low-level jobs by increasing the fixed costs of labor: requiring employers to guarantee employees a minimum number of hours and to offer the same benefits to all employees. Increasing fixed costs could provide the nudge employers need to manage rather than minimize, or externalize, the costs of labor in jobs at the front lines of today’s firms.

Keywords:   economic insecurity, labor cost, health insurance, hourly jobs, inequality, minimum work-hours guarantee, precarious employment, productivity, underemployment, wages

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