It has become a truism that work has become less secure and more precarious for a widening swath of American workers. Why and how this has happened, and what workers can and should do about it, is the subject of a wide-ranging new book, Temp: How American Work, American Business, and the American Dream became Temporary (Viking, 2018). In Temp, Louis Hyman, Professor of History at the Industrial and Labor Relations School of Cornell University, presents a detailed history of the unraveling of steady work. Hyman acknowledges that secure, lucrative, meaningful work has never been equally available to all Americans, even amidst the prosperity of the post-WWII era. He also argues compellingly that the shift toward privileging shareholders over employees and short-term profit over long-term prosperity was not inevitable, nor is it irreversible. Jobs are less secure today not because the market demanded it but because, starting as early as the 1950s, executives, consultants, and policy makers decided to make them that way. He details the rise of temp agencies and consultancies as well as the broader political, cultural, economic, and technological shifts that fueled and furthered the move toward insecure work. Listen in as I talk with Professor Hyman about his fascinating work and his ideas about what the path forward might look like for American workers.
Carrie Lane is a Professor of American Studies at California State University, Fullerton and author of A Company of One: Insecurity, Independence, and the New World of White-Collar Unemployment. Her research concerns the changing nature of work in the contemporary U.S. She is currently writing a book on the professional organizing industry. To contact her or to suggest a recent title, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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