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Future of Work

The Clash of Professional Autonomy and Regulatory Compliance

April 2, 2015

This feature is part of an ongoing RSF blog series, Work in Progress, which highlights some of the research of our current class of Visiting Scholars.

Drawing from ten years of ethnographic research, Visiting Scholar Susan Silbey (MIT) is writing a book that examines the growing tensions between federal law and laboratory science. She is investigating the ways in which federal lab regulations and audits, often implemented in the name of safety, are perceived to threaten the autonomy of scientific practice within both the academy and other specialized industries.

In a new interview with the Foundation, Silbey discussed the factors that have given rise to breaches of regulatory compliance in academic and laboratory settings, including industry-specific hierarchies of labor, as well as larger cultural shifts in attitudes about workplace governance.

Q. In your research you have examined the 2009 UCLA laboratory tragedy that sparked the first criminal prosecution over an accident in an academic lab. What does this event, and others like it, reveal about the difficulties of ensuring regulatory compliance in academic lab settings?

New Reports Investigate the Effects of Recession on Parenting, Private Safety Net, and Public Assistance

March 30, 2015

The Russell Sage Foundation recently completed a major initiative to assess the effects of the Great Recession on the economic, political, and social life of the country. Officially over in 2009, the Great Recession is now generally acknowledged to be the most devastating global economic crisis since the Great Depression. Prolonged economic stagnation is likely to transform American institutions and severely erode the life chances of many Americans. To understand these effects across a broad swath of social and economic life, the Foundation identified 15 areas of inquiry—such as retirement, education, income and wealth—and funded proposals for innovative projects from a distinguished team of scholars.

Three new Recession Briefs summarizing research from the Great Recession initiative now are available for download. These reports use data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS) in order to analyze the effects of the Recession on families in the U.S.:

New Research Collaborations with the W.K. Kellogg and MacArthur Foundations

March 12, 2015

The Russell Sage Foundation has launched several research collaborations with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Over the last year, seven projects have been co-funded with the Kellogg Foundation and nine projects have been co-funded with the MacArthur Foundation.

RSF president Sheldon Danziger remarked, “I am extremely pleased that the Russell Sage Foundation has been able to collaborate with the Kellogg Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation.” He added, “We receive many high-quality social science research proposals and these partnerships allow us to fund a greater number of projects than we could support with our own funds.”

Winter 2015 Presidential Authority Awards

March 9, 2015

The Russell Sage Foundation has recently approved the following Presidential Authority awards in several programs, including Future of Work, Social Inequality, Cultural Contact, and Immigration programs.

Awards approved in the Future of Work program:

Living at the Minimum: Low-Wage Workers with Children During Seattle's Minimum Wage Increase
Heather D. Hill and Jennifer Romich (University of Washington)
Jointly funded with the MacArthur Foundation

Human development and social policy experts Heather Hill and Jennifer Romich will carry out an in-depth, qualitative study of Seattle workers with children before and after the implementation of the city’s minimum wage increase to $15 per hour starting in April 2015.

New Awards Approved in Future of Work, Social Inequality, and Cultural Contact Programs

March 2, 2015

Seven new research projects were funded at the Foundation’s February 2015 meeting of the Board of Trustees.

The Foundation’s Future of Work program examines the causes and consequences of the declining quality of jobs for less- and moderately-educated workers in the U.S. economy and the role of changes in employer practices, the nature of the labor market and public policies on the employment, earnings, and the quality of jobs of American workers. The following project was recently funded under the program:

Minimum Wage Policies and Low-Wage Work: An Assessment of New Methods and Measures
Arindrajit Dube (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)
Jointly funded with the MacArthur Foundation

Economist Arindrajit Dube, who has been at the forefront of new minimum wage research, will assess the contradictory findings in the recent literature on whether increasing the minimum wage raises labor costs and leads to fewer jobs at the bottom of the labor market.

Fall 2014 Presidential Authority Awards in Social Inequality and the Future of Work

December 5, 2014

The Russell Sage Foundation has recently approved the following Presidential Authority awards in two key programs, Social Inequality and the Future of Work. Click the titles below to read more about each award.

New Awards Approved in Core RSF Programs

November 19, 2014

Thirteen new research projects in the Russell Sage Foundation’s Behavioral Economics, Social Inequality, Immigration, and the Future of Work programs were recently funded at the Foundation’s November 2014 meeting of the Board of Trustees.

The Foundation’s Behavioral Economics program supports research that incorporates the insights of psychology and other social sciences into the study of economic behavior. The following projects were recently funded under the program:

New Awards Approved in Social Inequality and Future of Work Programs

July 15, 2014

Several new research projects in the Russell Sage Foundation’s Social Inequality and the Future of Work programs were funded at the Foundation’s June meeting of the Board of Trustees.

The Foundation’s Social Inequality program examines the social and political consequences of rising economic inequality. Recently, the program has turned to in-depth examinations of public education and intergenerational social mobility, funding projects that examine access to early education, growing wealth disparities in the U.S., and the effects of household wealth on child development, among others. The following projects were funded under the Social Inequality program:

Job Quality in the United States

July 1, 2013

Writing in the journal Social Forces earlier this year, Vicki Smith of University of California, Davis, praised two of our recent books on job polarization trends -- Good Jobs, Bad Jobs (Arne Kalleberg) and Good Jobs America (Paul Osterman and Beth Shulman) -- as important additions to the growing literature on "employment precariousness":

Good Jobs, Bad Jobs methodically traces the causes and consequences of the polarization of jobs into good and bad, and the rise of precariousness across occupations and professions. Seeing the current era of uncertainty as a moment in an ongoing “double movement” (a concept coined by Polanyi) between flexibility (characterized by the dominance of unregulated markets and the subsequent disruption of social life) and security (characterized by the dominance of government interventions that buffer individuals and families from market dynamics) over the course of industrial capitalism, Kalleberg carefully addresses each facet of polarization and precariousness, analyzing data from a wide variety of sources to answer questions that have been debated vigorously by sociologists and economists. His goal is to weave together many different strands of precariousness and polarization (indeed, they are mutually constitutive, in that developments in one domain often exert pressure on another) that have created a deeply worrisome set of employment relationships.


Osterman and Shulman reveal the flaws in popular myths about the low-wage labor market and about social mobility in the United States. today. Two are striking: adults’ participation in low-wage markets is transient (thus, we shouldn't fuss too much about it as an impediment to long-run social mobility), and they simply need to develop their human capital to ascend from them. Osterman and Shulman argue that the vast majority of people who hold low-wage jobs are stuck there. The jobs are dead-end and offer no opportunity for learning new skills or for vertical mobility. Furthermore, Osterman and Shulman doubt that increasing education or skill levels is sufficient to enable many workers to access “good” jobs. Their goal is straightforward: below-standard jobs must be improved, by paying better wages (not wages that consign people to membership in the working poor), building job ladders that link low-wage positions to better compensated positions at higher levels in and between organizations, and instituting training programs for low-level employees.

Workplace Violation Rates in the Low-Wage Sector

February 22, 2013

After President Obama's call for a higher federal minimum wage, much of the public debate over the proposal, including on this blog, has focused on the impact of the minimum wage on the labor market and on business profits. But a new study funded by the Foundation suggests that the potential disemployment effects of a minimum wage hike -- if any -- should be only one part of a wider discussion of working conditions in the low-wage sector. Using a novel measurement technique, the study investigates how many employers in low-wage industries pay the existing minimum wage -- and its results are quite sobering.

In their article in the latest Social Forces, Annette Bernhardt, Michael Spiller and Diana Polson draw from a landmark representative survey of frontline workers in low-wage industries to reveal disturbingly high rates of workplace violations, including minimum wage, overtime and other employment laws. The study is especially notable because measuring labor law violations is notoriously difficult: low-wage workers are hard to reach (and to accurately sample), and employers are unlikely to admit to breaking labor laws. For their data, the authors rely on the 2008 Unregulated Work Survey, which used Respondent-Driven Sampling to reach more than 4,300 workers in low-wage industries in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City. The authors summarize their conclusions:

We found high violation rates of a wide range of employment and labor laws, with fully 67.5 percent of our sample having experienced at least one form of wage theft in the previous work week. We also document high rates of employer retaliation when workers made a complaint or tried to organize a union, and a workers' compensation system that is essentially nonfunctional in this part of the labor market. These prevalence rates, combined with the substantial amount of stolen wages (15% of wages due, on average), suggests that workplace violations are becoming standard practice in the low-wage labor market.

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