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The social meaning of work from youths' perspectives

Consuming Work

Youth Labor in America

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Yasemin Besen-Cassino

Consuming Work deftly combines multiple research methods to capture the lived experiences of young workers in service sector jobs and to challenge commonly held assumptions about their characteristics and motivations. We learn, for example, that young workers in the United States are often affluent students who find an identity and satisfy their social needs through what some observers may regard as ‘bad’ part-time jobs. By means of ethnographic investigations and quantitative analyses of data from the United States and other industrialized countries, this book underscores the diversity and the links between work and consumption that characterize the youth labor market.”
Arne L. Kalleberg, Kenan Distinguished Professor of Sociology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and author of Good Jobs, Bad Jobs: The Rise of Polarized and Precarious Employment Systems in the United States, 1970s to 2000s

Youth labor is an important element in our modern economy, but as students’ consumption habits have changed, so too have their reasons for working. In Consuming Work, Yasemin Besen-Cassino reveals that many American high school and college students work for social reasons, not monetary gain. Most are affluent, suburban, white youth employed in part-time jobs at places like the Coffee Bean so they can be associated with a cool brand, hang out with their friends, and get discounts.

Consuming Work offers a fascinating picture of youth at work and how jobs are marketed to these students. Besen-Cassino also shows how the roots of gender and class inequality in the labor force have their beginnings in this critical labor sector.

Exploring the social meaning of youth at work, and providing critical insights into labor and the youth workforce, Consuming Work contributes a deeper understanding of the changing nature of American labor.

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Excerpt

Read an excerpt from the Introduction (pdf).

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Reviews

"This is an original and innovative book with rich, qualitative research—in particular, of niche/boutique workplaces. Besen-Cassino makes an important contribution by connecting the production of teen work with larger issues of consumption and branding. Consuming Work fills a void by focusing on work and higher-income, better-educated youth—a subset of youth employment research that has previously been neglected. This book will prompt a lively discussion of the lived experiences of teen workers."
—Mary Gatta, Senior Scholar, Wider Opportunities for Women

"Consuming Work is a must read for all those who are interested in understanding why the millennial generation currently faces declining opportunities for meaningful employment. Besen-Cassino provides a sweeping analysis of the reasons that young workers are losing out in the contemporary capitalist labor market, where the growth in trendy jobs has brought positions that may engage young people but that offer no viable long-term career ladder. This book is an excellent contribution to the literature on the new dead-end labor markets."
—Immanuel Ness, Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and editor of New Forms of Worker Organization

"Besen-Cassino counters conventional wisdom that young people take undesirable service-sector jobs only because they need the money.... The author also offers a critical look at how youth turn to the workplace to fill gaps left by their impersonal educational institutions and at how workforce disparities based on race, gender, and class have their roots in workers' early experiences.... VERDICT [T]his engaging read will appeal to scholars of the sociology of work, as well as some high school and college students and their teachers, mentors, and parents. It could also be of great use to those who hire millennials or who work to help economically disadvantaged young people."
Library Journal

"Sociologist Besen-Cassino draws on qualitative interviews, rich ethnographic observations of an upscale coffee shop, and quantitative data from American and international surveys to make a provocative, largely convincing argument.... [Her] emphasis on the subjective experiences of young workers and her analysis of these experiences adds significantly to the field. Summing Up: Highly recommended."
Choice

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Contents

Acknowledgments

1. Consuming Work: Introduction to Youth Work in America
2. “Would You Like an Application with Your Coffee?”
3. Fun or Exploitation? The Lived Experience of Suburban Youth Work
4. Pay or Play? The Youth Labor Force in the United States and Other Industrialized Countries
5. “They Need Me Here”: Work as a Perceived Alternative to School
6. “White, Young, Middle Class”: Aesthetic Labor, Race, and Class in the Youth Labor Force
7. Origins of the Gender Wage Gap: Gender Inequality in the Youth Labor Force
8. Conclusion: The Economic Recession and the Future of Youth Labor

Appendix: Notes on Methodology
References
Index

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About the Author(s)

Yasemin Besen-Cassino is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Montclair State University. She is the coauthor (with Dan Cassino) of Consuming Politics: Jon Stewart, Branding, and the Youth Vote in America, and coeditor (with Michael Kimmel) of The Jessie Bernard Reader.

Subject Categories

Youth Studies
Labor Studies and Work
Sociology

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