Two articles by NRDC and the Sierra Club, and an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Daily News, summarize the findings of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation’s recent study “California’s Building Decarbonization: Workforce Needs and Recommendations.” The study is the first to estimate the potential employment impacts of decarbonization as California moves away from the use of fossil fuels in buildings. Despite a loss of jobs in the fossil fuel industry, the report estimates that the transition to all-electric buildings will support a net increase of more than 100,000 jobs over the next 25 years. The study recommends policy interventions and programs to ease work transitions, including bridges to retirement for older works and retraining and job placement assistance for younger ones. As California lays out its long-term climate goals, the report highlights the importance of planning and policy action to protect workers and ease the transition from one industry to the next.
Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the L.A. Times about the political feud between Mayor Eric Garcetti and the union that represents workers at the Department of Water and Power. The union has run a series of television and radio commercials attacking Garcetti’s plan to address climate change, saying it would eliminate thousands of jobs amid a serious housing crisis. Much of the opposition is driven by Garcetti’s plan to close three DWP natural gas plants but that is not mentioned in the ad, the story notes. “Unless you’re on the inside, you don’t really know what this is all about,” Yaroslavsky said. “You don’t know that it’s about shutting down fossil-fuel-powered plants in the basin.” Noting that the ads may be aimed at City Council members, Yaroslavsky said the union’s message may be: “This is what we’re doing to the mayor. Imagine what we can do to you.”
Randall Akee, associate professor of public policy, authored an article posted on RealClearMarkets about research linking higher levels of psychological stress suffered by blacks — compared to whites — related to short-term unemployment. Citing his own research, Akee suggests that differences in wealth by race might account for differences in unemployment experiences. “There are significant costs to wealth inequality. We have known for some time that it serves as an obstacle to important investment decisions in education and entrepreneurship. Now, we’re finding evidence that it may have adverse effects on individual well-being and mental health in the face of short-term unemployment,” Akee wrote.
By Stan Paul
“The United States has a bad jobs problem, and retail jobs are at the heart of it.”
That’s the first line of a new book, “Where Bad Jobs are Better: Retail Jobs Across Countries and Companies (Russell Sage Foundation),” co-authored by UCLA Urban Planning professor Chris Tilly.
But, Tilly argues in the book, it does not need to be the last line for retail employment, especially when compared to the same jobs outside of the U.S. There is room to improve, according to Tilly and co-author Françoise Carré, research director at the Center for Social Policy at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.
What is responsible for this perception of the largest — and still growing — employment sector in the nation? Low wages, unstable working hours and flat advancement prospects top the list, as well as high turnover rates for employees and a drop in productivity. The current outlook is worse for women who fill lower-paying, entry-level jobs primarily in food retail as opposed to their male counterparts who fill the vast majority of higher-paying retail positions in management, according to Tilly and Carré.
In addition, the authors point out, “It is worth emphasizing here that the evidence is strong that employment in stores is here to stay for a long time to come, in spite of recent predictions of the imminent displacement of store-based retail by online sales.” Their book also touches on a number of current topics, including election-cycle debates on raising the federal minimum wage.
Searching for solutions, the authors started with a comparative “global shopping trip,” in which they made a rigorous study comparing the U.S. retail industry with the same sector in five Western European countries and Mexico. In doing so, they asked what national institutional settings make a difference in job quality and what “room for maneuver” retailers have, by country, to manage for better jobs.
In the richer countries in Western Europe, the authors found more job productivity, better and more regular hours and higher pay than in the U.S. in comparable jobs. For example, the pay was notably higher in France, and notice of work schedules was markedly better in Germany. The differences in social norms and the role of institutions and regulations in these countries have led to relatively better job quality than in the U.S., according to Tilly and Carré.
“Improving retail jobs does not necessarily mean turning them into unambiguously good jobs; retail jobs in our comparison countries are not terrific, but they are better in significant ways,” the authors report.
Tilly and Carré also assert that the U.S. can choose whether service jobs in retail will be bad or good. “Put in the simplest terms, U.S. bad jobs in retail and other low-wage industries will improve when changes are made in the institutional environment — laws, labor relations structures, and broadly held values — followed by changes in managerial approaches.”
The situation in Mexico, a poorer country when compared to the U.S. and the other countries studied, can be instructive. The authors note that the economic gap between Mexico and the U.S. might be the determining factor in comparing retail jobs. But, they add, this is only partly true. Using Wal-Mart as an example of a company that dominates retail sectors in both countries, they find that “even this behemoth behaves differently in terms of choice of market segments and labor strategies across countries.” For example, they point out that in the U.S., Wal-Mart is 100 percent non-unionized, whereas in Mexico, it pays higher wages than its competitors and is mostly unionized.
They explain, “Wal-Mart is not the exception to the influence of societal effects around the world, but rather demonstrates that influence. Even Wal-Mart provides better jobs where rules are better.”
The authors demonstrate that, by understanding where and why bad jobs are better, “we can learn how to make them better across the board.”
More about “Where Bad Jobs are Better,” including the complete introduction and a supplemental chapter, may be found online.