In Left Behind: Snapshots from the 21st Century Labor Market, Roosevelt Program Director Rakeen Mabud and Program Associate Jess Forden explore today’s changing economy and the future of work through the lens of six occupations: carework, food service, manufacturing, mining, nursing, and trucking. Despite a seemingly robust and healthy economy, as indicated by headline measures like rising GDP growth and low unemployment, workers across America are struggling. Real wages are stagnant, workplaces are increasingly fissured, and workers have less bargaining power, all while the wealthy few hoard the economic gains of a high-profit economy.
In Left Behind, Mabud and Forden argue that while globalization and technological change have introduced new forms of insecurity and new tools for exploitation into work, the well-being of everyday Americans is fundamentally about power: whether workers have the power to demand better wages and working conditions from their employers; whether employers have the power to squeeze workers to cut costs; and the ways in which forces, such as globalization and technological change, shape—and are shaped by—these power dynamics. The erosion of worker voice, combined with rampant corporate and financial power, means that workers are increasingly vulnerable in today’s economy.
There is no single policy solution that will solve for this reality. Rather, a comprehensive, bold plan is necessary to meet the challenges of the future of work. Our economy and society need new rules—shaped by and for the 21st century—that mitigate the effects of technological change and globalization, curb the power of shareholders and employers in our economy, give workers more of a voice in their workplaces, and dismantle systems and institutions that crystalize structural racism and gender discrimination.