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"Job opportunity" is a myth for 25% of U.S. wage earners

Jobs Aren't Enough

Toward a New Economic Mobility for Low-Income Families

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Roberta Rehner Iversen and Annie Laurie Armstrong

Q&A with Roberta Rehner Iversen and Annie Laurie Armstrong, 2006

"This is an excellent and carefully crafted ethnography of how millions of people in the United States have jobs, work hard—but still have to live in poverty. To improve the situation, the authors argue, we need a new approach to social policy and a new theory of economic mobility. Highly recommended!"
Richard Swedberg

This unflinching examination of the obstacles to economic mobility for low-income families exposes the ugly reality that lies beneath the shining surface of the American Dream. The fact is that nearly 25% of employed adults have difficulty supporting their families today. In eye-opening interviews, twenty-five workers and nearly a thousand people who are linked to them—children, teachers, job trainers, and employers—tell wrenching stories about "trying to get ahead." Spanning five cities over five years, this study convincingly demonstrates that prevailing ideas about opportunity, merit, and "bootstraps" are outdated. As the authors show, some workers who believe the myths end up destroying their health and families in the process of trying to "move up."

Jobs Aren't Enough demonstrates that the social institutions of family, education, labor market, and policy all intersect to influence—and inhibit—employment mobility. It proposes a new mobility paradigm grounded in cooperation and collaboration across social institutions, along with revitalization of the "public will."

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Excerpt

Read the Foreword and Chapter 1 (pdf).

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Reviews

"Jobs Aren't Enough is a rich and careful empirical study of the close interconnections of work, family, school, and community as experienced by parents struggling to get ahead and provide a better future for their children. Iversen and Armstrong make a strong case for a new economic mobility paradigm: Today's realities require these aspects of working families' lives be treated as part of a single policy problem. This book should be required reading for all who attempt to tackle one or more of these issues in the future."
Thomas A. Kochan, Co-Director of the MIT Workplace Center and author of Restoring the American Dream: A Working Families' Agenda for America

"Jobs Aren't Enough decisively steps outside the analytic silos that characterize much of the research on low-income families. Using an innovative ethnographic method that should be a model for future research, the authors show all of us—academics, policymakers, and practitioners—that only comprehensive, coordinated reform in both the public and private sectors will solve the problem of working poverty."
Annette Bernhardt, Deputy Director, Poverty Program, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law

"Iversen and Armstrong make a strong case that political, economic and social systems need to change in order to support people on the job... This book is so well researched that it's also a compendium of fascinating and frightening statistics from other studies about American workers and our workforce development system...folks designing and implementing political, economic and social systems need to learn what Iversen and Armstrong know. The public needs to use this information to demand better, more effective systems based on realities, not myths."
Workforce Developments

"well-written...Overall, Iversen and Armstrong have produced a comprehensive study...Recommended."
Choice

"[T]his book could be used as a complete document to enable students to fully comprehend the definition and theory of economic mobility…[it is] a valuable piece of evidence for political decision-makers involved in policy-making related to education, labor force, and social benefits affecting low-income families…[it] may change the way economic mobility is regarded by providing a more realistic account of the process of attaining economic advancement…Finally, this book provides ammunition to encourage others to acknowledge the injustices of society and the hardships and realities of succeeding economically in America."
Families in Society

"[The chapter] on workforce development stands out as a shining centerpiece to the entire volume and as a key contribution to the literature with compelling applications for social work practice. It is here that Roberta Iversen’s expertise in the area of workforce development, is both evidenced and affirmed…For the growing number of social work scholars involved in research and teaching on workforce development and employment. Jobs Aren’t Enough is required reading."
Qualitative Social Work

"Iversen and Armstrong give us a unique comprehensive glimpse into the world of low-wage employment in an environment where considerable resources are devoted to improving the lives of the working poor in America. The results in this excellent book are both revealing and depressing….The authors do an excellent job of explaining, for general audiences, how systems of social networks, cultural capital, and embeddedness describe the economic milieu that most of us live in. They also do an excellent job of showing how these families have some of the things (e.g., family supports) but critically lack others (e.g., access to good schools for their children.)…Jobs Aren’t Enough is well worth your time and your money. If nothing else you will develop a greater understanding of just how much work there is to make a working society a prosperous one."
Contemporary Sociology

"Iversen and Armstrong have produced an in-depth ethnographic study of low-income families living in major American cities over a period of five years…The authors have amassed a great deal of evidence that question prevailing beliefs about work, education and opportunity. The detailed accounts of the challenges faced by the families in the study provide ample evidence that much more needs to be done to address these challenges. The book is an important addition to the literature and should be widely consulted."
The Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare

"[T]he message is an important one and worthy of our attention…the authors should be applauded for the many hundreds of hours spent conducting interviews and observing and meeting both the families and their employers. In the end, their message is clear: both vertical and horizontal alignment between social programs, family services, educational institutions, and employers is needed to ensure that once a family starts on the path toward self-sufficiency they are able to achieve it."
Human Resource Management

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Contents

Foreword – Susan Gewirtz
Acknowledgments
1. Are Jobs Enough for Economic Mobility?
2. From the Old to the New Economic Mobility
3. The Parents: Their Backgrounds, Lives, and Locations
4. The Children: Their Lives and Worlds
5. Workforce Development: Systems and Networks
6. Yesterday's Firms and Today's Families: Connects and Disconnects – with Michele Belliveau
7. Children's Schools, Parents' Work, and Policy: Alignment and Misalignment
8. Jobs Aren't Enough: Toward an Agenda for Family Economic Mobility
Afterword: What Lies Ahead for the New Orleans Families after Hurricane Katrina?
Appendix A: Frequently Asked Questions about the Research in this Book: Research Design

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About the Author(s)

Roberta Rehner Iversen is Associate Professor in the School of Social Policy & Practice at the University of Pennsylvania.

Annie Laurie Armstrong is the founder of Business Government Community Connections, a research and evaluation firm in Seattle.

Subject Categories

Sociology
Labor Studies and Work
Political Science and Public Policy

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