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Old Assumptions, New Realities

Ensuring Economic Security for Working Families in the 21st Century

Robert D. Plotnick, Marcia K. Meyers, Jennifer Romich, Steven Rathgeb Smith

Publication Year: 2010

The way Americans live and work has changed significantly since the creation of the Social Security Administration in 1935, but U.S. social welfare policy has failed to keep up with these changes. The model of the male breadwinner-led nuclear family has given way to diverse and often complex family structures, more women in the workplace, and nontraditional job arrangements. Old Assumptions, New Realities identifies the tensions between twentieth-century social policy and twenty-first-century realities for working Americans and offers promising new reforms for ensuring social and economic security. Old Assumptions, New Realities focuses on policy solutions for today’s workers—particularly low-skilled workers and low-income families. Contributor Jacob Hacker makes strong and timely arguments for universal health insurance and universal 401(k) retirement accounts. Michael Stoll argues that job training and workforce development programs can mitigate the effects of declining wages caused by deindustrialization, technological changes, racial discrimination, and other forms of job displacement. Michael Sherraden maintains that wealth-building accounts for children—similar to state college savings plans—and universal and progressive savings accounts for workers can be invaluable strategies for all workers, including the poorest. Jody Heymann and Alison Earle underscore the potential for more extensive work-family policies to help the United States remain competitive in a globalized economy. Finally, Jodi Sandfort suggests that the United States can restructure the existing safety net via state-level reforms but only with a host of coordinated efforts, including better information to service providers, budget analyses, new funding sources, and oversight by intermediary service professionals. Old Assumptions, New Realities picks up where current policies leave off by examining what’s not working, why, and how the safety net can be redesigned to work better. The book brings much-needed clarity to the process of creating viable policy solutions that benefit all working Americans.  

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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p. ix

The chapters in Old Assumptions, New Realities were initially presented at a conference co-hosted by the West Coast Poverty Center and the Nancy Bell Evans Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the University of Washington in September 2008. The authors have revised the chapters to reflect comments from conference participants...

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pp. xi-xii

In early 2007, as we began developing the conceptual framework that led to a conference and this volume, housing prices were starting to plunge and there was some foreshadowing of the economic downturn to come. But the economy overall was still growing, and key economic indicators such as employment, the unemployment rate, and stock...

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1. Old Assumptions, New Realities

Marcia K. Meyers, Robert D. Plotnick, Jennifer Romich

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pp. 1-27

In an era of rapid technological change and continuing globalization of labor, capital, and product markets, old economic notions of a tradeoff between “efficiency” and “equality” have been replaced by a more nuanced understanding of the interdependence of economic and social development. Governments in all industrialized countries balance...

Part I: Policies to Increase Economic Security in the 21st Century

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p. 29

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2. Working Families at Risk: Understanding and Confronting the New Economic Insecurity

Jacob S. Hacker

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pp. 31-70

Arnold Dorsett was an American success story. An air conditioner repairman, he earned more than his father ever did: almost $70,000 a year, thanks to a relentless schedule of eighty- to ninety-hour workweeks. He owned a good home in the suburbs. His wife, Sharon, training to be a nurse when they met and hoping to return to school soon, stayed home to care for their...

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3. Workforce Development and Public Policy: Addressing New Realities in Low-Skill Labor Markets

Michael A. Stoll

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pp. 71-102

Over the four decades since 1970, significant economic and social transformations have changed the economic opportunities of and rewards from work for those with limited education, especially if they live in poor, urban, or minority communities. Over this period, good jobs that required only a basic education began to disappear, leaving many unable to find work and form strong labor-market...

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4. Creating Opportunity at the Bottom: The Role of Skill Development and Firm-Level Policies in Improving Outcomes for Low-Wage Employees

Paul Osterman

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pp. 103-124

In the past several decades the American labor market has gone through a remarkable number of changes. The nature of the employment relationship has evolved as firms have reduced the types of commitments they are willing to make to their employees and, as part of this reconsideration, introduced new employment arrangements such as contingent employment systems and contract...

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5. Asset-Based Policies and Financial Services: Toward Fairness and Inclusion

Michael Sherraden

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pp. 125-149

As the editors of this volume suggest in the opening chapter, we may be in an era of social policy transformation. Policies that were put into place during the twentieth century, in the United States and abroad, today are experiencing strain, questioning, and revision. Although typically discussed in the political terms of left and right, the sources of policy strain...

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6. Ensuring that Americans Can Succeed at Home and at Work in a Global Economy

Jody Heymann, Alison Earle

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pp. 150-183

In the early 1800s, most American adults worked out of their homes and farms. They grew their own food, made their own clothes, and produced goods largely for their own families and a small quantity for sale. The United States was a country of rural communities and small towns, and Americans who did live in cities still often worked out of their homes or in shops connected...

Part II: The New Realities of Delivering Safety-Net Programs

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7. Nonprofit Helping Hands for the Working Poor: New Realities and Challenges for Today's Safety Net

Scott W. Allard

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pp. 187-213

Anew type of safety net has emerged in recent decades to assist lowincome Americans, far different from the safety net in place during the War on Poverty of the 1960s.1 Contrary to old notions and assumptions that view cash assistance as the dominant approach to antipoverty assistance, the twenty-first-century safety net depends heavily upon social service programs that offer helping hands...

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8. Reconstituting the Safety Net: New Principles and Design Elements to Better Support Low-Income Workers

Jodi R. Sandfort

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pp. 214-241

As the introductory chapter of this volume describes, the current social welfare system of the United States evolved incrementally, as policymakers built upon the foundation of the Social Security Act. While public social benefits such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income developed because of changing economic and demographic conditions, fundamental...


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pp. 243-257

E-ISBN-13: 9781610447218
Print-ISBN-13: 9780871546777

Page Count: 270
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 793202781
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Old Assumptions, New Realities

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Subject Headings

  • Working poor -- United States.
  • Social security -- United States.
  • United States -- Social policy -- 21st century.
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