Newswise — "Make no mistake, there is a new economy," says Stephen Sweet, lead-author of "Changing Contours of Work" and an assistant professor of sociology at Ithaca College. He explains how the new economy has opened up prospects for working in new ways and created opportunities for new groups of workers. For example, today people can work at home and engage in collaboration through electronic media. "But one problematic feature of the new economy is the way it segregates opportunity into 'good jobs' (that are increasingly fragile) and 'bad jobs' that lack benefits, livable wages and prospects for mobility," says Sweet. Thus, he explains that the new economy creates chasms that separate many workers from reasonable working conditions, reasonable chances of upward mobility, reasonable chances of job security and reasonable chances to earn a living wage.
In "Changing Contours of Work," Sweet and co-author Peter Meiksins call for a workers' bill of rights and a "new deal" for the new economy.
"We see a dismantling of those systems that in the past made workers more confident that they would hold their jobs as they aged and the family investments increased; we see a dismantling of protections at the same time we have seen the integration of women into the paid labor force and the reliance on two-income families, " says Sweet.
The new economy has a different opportunity structure, Sweet explains. "To get a good job employees now need higher levels of education; skills are very important for many sectors of the work force. At the same time we see aspects of the old economy, such as factory-oriented labor, transferring itself over into the new economy. So if we look at a McDonald's, what we are looking at is an assembly line; there are low ceilings for occupational mobility," said Sweet.
Sweet also observes that women, racial minorities and children from the lower classes continue to be funneled into the "bad" jobs.
"As we consider social policy, a key question concerns how to make the new economy work for everyone. This includes dismantling gender and racial chasms, but also addressing the needs of workers laboring in jobs that provide few resources."
In calling for a workers' bill of rights Sweet explains, "If you look back to the Fair Labor Standards Act —that said if you want to employ a worker more than 40 hours a week you have to pay them overtime at time-and-a-half. This is a wonderful way of reorganizing and creating a disincentive for employing workers for long hours; it could also benefit potential workers who are not in the labor force. The Act did exactly what it was intended to do. Now, it is not working as well, so we have to rethink how we are going to provide health care, how we are going to keep workers from being overworked and how we are going to provide levels of security that currently don't exist.
"In short, we need to rethink what we need to expect from employers, what we need to expect from our government, unions and from each other in the workplace," said Sweet.
Sweet is the author of numerous books and articles that focus on the intersections between work, family, and community. By studying connections between these different institutions, his research highlights the strains jobs can introduce in family lives, how families respond to these strains, as well as the ways work contributes to individual and family potentials. His research also examines how work opportunities are allocated, and how the nature of job designs influence community development and family experiences.