Title

Jobs and politics: Politicizing United States employment experience under conditions of growing inequality

Date of Award

5-2000

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Political Science

Advisor(s)

Kristi J. Andersen

Keywords

Displaced workers, Jobs, Politics, Employment, Inequality

Subject Categories

American Politics | Inequality and Stratification | Political Economy

Abstract

I have developed scales to measure vulnerability to job displacement and negative workforce experience among American National Election Studies (ANES) respondents. Using the scales, I demonstrated that people at high risk of job displacement experienced economic and political life differently than other Americans during the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s. This was apparent in the opinions and attitudes of people with specific individual characteristics that put them at high risk, such as particular employment, educational, and ethnic attributes. It was even clearer when the attitudes of people with several high risk attributes were compared to those with few or none. The experience of employment vulnerability was reflected not only in their level of concern over personal finances and the economy, but also in their beliefs about efficacy and the amount of interest they had in policy that would provide protection to the American workforce.

The 1980s in particular seem to have been a time of despair for the vulnerable. They were neither sharing in the financial success of the less vulnerable nor expecting to achieve such success. Further, at just the time they needed help, the vulnerable were losing faith in their ability to effect change and were less likely to believe that they could trust government than were the less vulnerable.

Their frustration was reflected in their preferences. People with high vulnerability scores were highly supportive of a policy that would protect their financial security but that stands in opposition to American individual responsibility values. This willingness to restrain the influence of a basic tenet of the American creed suggests that they might have been willing to make a demand for radical change to the American political economy given appropriate leadership. However, no such leadership emerged. Instead, there is evidence that much of the energy that could have been harnessed for a movement for political change was channeled into negative feelings toward ethnic minorities.

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