Good Jobs, Bad Jobs provides an insightful analysis of how and why precarious employment is gaining ground in the labor market and the role these developments have played in the decline of the middle class. Kalleberg shows that by the 1970s, government deregulation, global competition, and the rise of the service sector gained traction, while institutional protections for workers—such as unions and minimum-wage legislation—weakened. Together, these forces marked the end of postwar security for American workers. The composition of the labor force also changed significantly; the number of dual-earner families increased, as did the share of the workforce comprised of women, non-white, and immigrant workers. Of these groups, blacks, Latinos, and immigrants remain concentrated in the most precarious and low-quality jobs, with educational attainment being the leading indicator of who will earn the highest wages and experience the most job security and highest levels of autonomy and control over their jobs and schedules. Kalleberg demonstrates, however, that building a better safety net—increasing government responsibility for worker health care and retirement, as well as strengthening unions—can go a long way toward redressing the effects of today’s volatile labor market.
There is every reason to expect that the growth of precarious jobs—which already make up a significant share of the American job market—will continue. Good Jobs, Bad Jobs deftly shows that the decline in U.S. job quality is not the result of fluctuations in the business cycle, but rather the result of economic restructuring and the disappearance of institutional protections for workers. Only government, employers and labor working together on long-term strategies—including an expanded safety net, strengthened legal protections, and better training opportunities—can help reverse this trend.