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Tilly on Apps That Disrupt the Payday Cycle

Urban Planning Professor Chris Tilly spoke to Bloomberg Law about new apps that allow workers to tap into their paychecks ahead of the traditional two-week cycle. At least five tech startups have entered the market, which is primarily aimed at workers who live paycheck to paycheck. By accessing their earnings earlier, people will gain more flexibility in paying bills and avoiding high-interest credit card charges, the services say. However, some observers say that speeding up pay cycles could mask a larger problem: stagnant wages. “The smoothing of pay availability over a pay period is advantageous to people who have very little savings,” said Tilly, a labor economist. “What it doesn’t address is why those people have very little savings in the first place. Low pay is low pay, and this is being intensified by increasing housing, health care and other costs in many places.”


 

Tilly on Selective Use of Wage Statistics

Urban Planning Professor Chris Tilly spoke to FactCheck.org about presidential candidates’ selective use of statistics to describe U.S. wages as rising, sinking or flat. Different variables — including how to adjust for inflation and which base year to choose for comparison — can lead to different conclusions. President Trump has said that “wages are rising at the fastest rate in a decade,” while Sen. Bernie Sanders has said that “the average American today has not seen a nickel more in real wages than he or she got 45 years ago.” Tilly weighed in on Sen. Cory Booker’s claim that wages are at a 60-year low, a possible reference to wages as a percentage of gross domestic income — a measure of workers’ share of the economic pie. This is a different but legitimate way of looking at wages and salaries, Tilly said, noting that it reveals what workers are getting “relative to other kinds of income recipients in the economy.”


 

U.S. Retail Jobs Are Bad — But It Doesn’t Have to Stay That Way A new book co-authored by UCLA Luskin urban planner Chris Tilly challenges the “myth of inevitability” for poor working conditions in America’s largest employment sector

Chris Tilly

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.

70 Years of Improving Workers’ Lives at UCLA UCLA Luskin's Abel Valenzuela, director of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, reflects on seven decades of labor market research during a rousing anniversary celebration

By Stefani Ritoper
UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment

On April 11, 2017, more than 250 attendees gathered at UCLA’s Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference Center to celebrate the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment’s 70 years of work. In an evening with music, food and camaraderie, community and campus leaders reflected on the Institute’s long and storied history.

The theme of the evening was “UCLA’s Role in Workers’ Lives Today.” Institute director Abel Valenzuela, who is also a professor of urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, opened the evening by posing the question: In this divided political climate, what is UCLA’s responsibility to improve workers’ lives?

Part of the answer lies in the work that the Institute has undertaken over the past seven decades, Valenzuela said. For seven decades, the Institute has conducted timely and impactful research on labor markets and how work impacts workers and their families. Through the work of its units – UCLA Labor Center, Human Resources Roundtable and the Labor Occupational Safety and Health program – the Institute has created programing to improve workers lives, researching key issues such as worker health and safety, the minimum wage, wage theft and immigrant worker issues.

“It’s amazing that you’re still here,” said History professor Robin D.G. Kelley about the Institute’s long tenure at UCLA. He spoke about the work that IRLE has done to build the capacity of worker organizations, and what this has done in turn for workers’ issues in Los Angeles. “What you’ve been able to do is shift attention to low-wage, marginalized workers. It’s not just a position of defending labor; it’s a vision of transforming society.”

UCLA alumna Ana Luz Gonzalez MA UP `02 PhD `15  and political science student Fernando Antunez spoke about the Institute’s teaching program. Gonzalez talked about her research on day laborers and wage theft, and how this research has been pivotal in advancing policy and educational programs aimed at ending wage theft among low-wage workers. Antunez talked about how work and mental health are connected, sharing the moving story of his own family as they coped with his mother’s deteriorating health.

Keynote speaker and former labor leader Maria Elena Durazo described the importance of UCLA’s commitment to working families. “It’s working families that pay for public higher education,” she said. “They are the permanent donors of the public university system.”

Durazo emphasized that working people need to protect their ability to defend their rights because many laws are not enforced. She spoke of the UCLA Labor Center’s work, partnering with worker organizations on issues such as wage theft, as well as the role of the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration in preventing worker deaths on the job.

All speakers emphasized the hopefulness that the work of the Institute brings in this current political and economic era. “These are not dark times. These are bright times,” Kelley said. “And you’re shining the light.”