The Moral Failing of Employers

employersIt’s not uncommon to hear the argument that poverty, especially in minority communities, is the result of moral failings—absent fathers, drug use, and most of all, a lack of personal responsibility.

But in her new book, “The Tumbleweed Society: Working and Caring in an Age of Insecurity,” Allison Pugh says these arguments focus on the wrong moral failings. Rather, it’s employers that are no longer living up to their responsibilities to workers. As this review of the book in the Pacific Standard explains:

Work, Pugh argues, has become more and more precarious, both as a long-term trend and following the financial crisis. Layoffs have become a standard business tactic even in times of economic growth; longtime job security is increasingly rare, and insecurity is increasingly accepted.

As workplaces loosened their commitment to workers, some observers worried that Americans would respond by putting less into their jobs. But instead, American workers have doubled down; “every racialized group, gender and wage level have increased their workhours since the late 1970s,” Pugh writes. Workers remain committed to an iron-clad work ethic, while employers are expected to provide their workers with only “their pay check and a certain amount of respect” as one lay-off victim puts it.

Pugh notes that this new environment, where independence is the only virtue, affects our personal relationships. She says the people she interviewed are willing to abandon personal connections when they are no longer useful or when caring for our friends or lovers becomes burdensome. So while many social conservatives argue that stable marriages are the key to financial stability, Pugh flips the script. She says that economic success allows people to create stable home lives, while those in more precarious financial situations feel they can’t afford to maintain relationships through tough times.

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