The New York Times recently ran an editorial entitled, When Bosses Schedule Hours That Just Don’t Work. Other recent headlines have touted the challenges for workers in the “gig economy” and those who work “on call,” the oppressive conditions of warehouse work for mega online retailers, and employees misclassified as independent contractors. In short, the mainstream media has finally caught up with dramatic changes in the labor market that have been underway for a long time, which also includes a growth in self-employment and temporary work as well as the number of part-time workers who are supporting families.
A groundbreaking paper by Nancy K. Cauthen, Annette Case and Sarah Wilhelm, Promoting Security in a 21st Century Labor Market: Addressing Intermittent Unemployment in Nonstandard Work, takes an in-depth look at the dynamics of unemployment and underemployment in nonstandard work. Many workers with nonstandard employment face considerable insecurity because of lower wages, lack of job security, responsibility for work expenses, volatile work hours and unpredictable schedules, and a lack of benefits such as such as paid time off, health insurance and retirement benefits. This instability is exacerbated by inflexible employer practices that fail to accommodate employee sickness and caregiving responsibilities. These trends greatly increase the likelihood of unemployment and underemployment in nonstandard work.
The paper explores why our nation’s outmoded labor standards and protections – still rooted in 20th century norms about employment, gender roles and family – are inadequate to address the looming unemployment/underemployment crisis among workers in nonstandard jobs. The authors conclude with a bold call to action to move the needle on unemployment benefits and other forms of social insurance and to raise the bar for labor standards.