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Chutes and Ladders: Navigating the Low-Wage Labor Market

Chutes and Ladders: Navigating the Low-Wage Labor Market

by Katherine S. NewmanKatherine S. Newman
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Now that the welfare system has been largely dismantled, the fate of America's poor depends on what happens to them in the low-wage labor market. In this timely volume, Katherine S. Newman explores whether the poorest workers and families benefited from the tight labor markets and good economic times of the late 1990s. Following black and Latino workers in Harlem, who began their work lives flipping burgers, she finds more good news than we might have expected coming out of a high-poverty neighborhood. Many adult workers returned to school and obtained trade certificates, high school diplomas, and college degrees. Their persistence paid off in the form of better jobs, higher pay, and greater self-respect. Others found union jobs and, as a result, brought home bigger paychecks, health insurance, and a pension. More than 20 percent of those profiled in Chutes and Ladders are no longer poor.

A very different story emerges among those who floundered even in a good economy. Weighed down by family obligations or troubled partners and hindered by poor training and prejudice, these "low riders" moved in and out of the labor market, on and off public assistance, and continued to depend upon the kindness of family and friends.

Supplementing finely drawn ethnographic portraits, Newman examines the national picture to show that patterns around the country paralleled the findings from some of New York's most depressed neighborhoods. More than a story of the shifting fortunes of the labor market, Chutes and Ladders asks probing questions about the motivations of low-wage workers, the dreams they have for the future, and their understanding of the rules of the game.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674027534
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 04/30/2008
Series: Russell Sage Foundation Books at Harvard University Press Series
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 432
Product dimensions: 5.78(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Katherine S. Newman is Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor, and Torrey Little Professor of Sociology, at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Table of Contents



1. Lives, in the Long Run

Part I. Chutes and Ladders

2. The Best-Case Scenario
Katherine S. Newman and Chauncy Lennon
3. High Flyers, Low Riders, and the "Up but Not Out" Club

4. All in the Family

5. The National Picture
Helen Connolly, Peter Gottschalk, and Katherine S. Newman

Part II. The Inside View

6. Streetwise Economics
Victor Tan Chen and Katherine S. Newman

7. "This Is the Kind of Life I Want": Work and Welfare in the Boom Years

8. Dreams, Deferred: Aspirations and Obstacles in Work and Family Life

9. Opening the Gates

Appendix A. Study Design

Appendix B. Sample Definitions

Appendix C. Occupational Prestige Scores and the Socioeconomic Index

Appendix D. SIPP Analysis of Wage and Status Change



What People are Saying About This

William Julius Wilson

This engaging book chronicles the divergent trajectories of a group of low-wage workers during a brief period of economic prosperity. Katherine Newman has once again demonstrated the value of careful ethnographic research in revealing the many challenges confronting the working poor. Chutes and Ladders is a unique and important study that should be widely read and discussed.
William Julius Wilson, Harvard University

Senator John Edwards

Katherine Newman is not afraid to ask the hard questions in her new book, Chutes and Ladders. There is much to draw from the "high flyers" such as Kyesha, Jamal and Kevin, who work their way out of poverty, and the rest of the people Newman follows in these pages offer all of us important lessons and insights. In Chutes and Ladders, policymakers have a blueprint for valuing work and reducing poverty.

Andrew Cherlin

Chutes and Ladders makes an important contribution to our knowledge of low-wage workers. There are many studies of the plight of young, low-income workers, but few if any follow them closely to see what happens to them over time. The conventional wisdom says that they are stuck in undesirable jobs forever, but Katherine Newman shows that about 20 per cent move up the job ladder and greatly improve their lives. Because of her detailed knowledge of these workers' life stores, Newman shows us how they do it.
Andrew Cherlin, Johns Hopkins University

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