Labor Market Policy: One Institutionalist's Agenda

By Figart, Deborah M. | Journal of Economic Issues, June 2003 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Labor Market Policy: One Institutionalist's Agenda

Figart, Deborah M., Journal of Economic Issues

Institutionalists have taken the position that policy advocacy is consistent with the writings of foundational thinkers such as Thorstein Veblen, John R. Commons, and Karl Polanyi (Hayden 1939). What is distinctive about an institutionalist approach is the contention that the normative criteria for policy must be explicitly grounded in core cultural values and dominant social beliefs. F. Gregory Hayden, for example, has contended that "criteria stand between beliefs and interpretations of policy" (1995, 362). In his book The Discretionary Economy, Marc Tool proposed instrumental efficiency as the criterion for normative policy and theory. Instrumental efficiency is achieved by policies and practices that provide "for the continuity of human life and the noninvidious re-creation of community through the instrumental use of knowledge" (2001, 293). Daniel Gimble argued that Tool's criteria imply labor markets in which work fosters individual creativity, self-motivation, human development, human dignity, self-ful fillment, noninvidiousness, and nonalienation in the work process (1991, 638).

Restructuring labor markets according to these criteria would be a long-term process. In the short run, however, there are a number of policy proposals currently under discussion that would further the end of instrumental efficiency. In particular, I emphasize policies that would foster the elimination of invidious distinctions between workers based on position and status. (1) In this article, I discuss those social and institutional contexts of contemporary labor markets that perpetuate invidious distinctions by class, gender, and race-ethnicity. I offer a "Top Ten" list of labor market policies that could be adopted in order to eliminate invidious distinctions, If these policies are out of the margin at the federal level, perhaps it is up to individual U.S. states to take the lead, as some already have.

Invidious Distinctions by Class and Occupational Status: Labor Market Deficiencies at the Bottom

Contemporary labor markets are rife with status distinctions based on class and occupation. Some of these invidious distinctions have been explored by institutional economists analyzing dual and segmented labor markets. However, the shift toward the service sector, globalization, and managerial initiatives to enhance "flexibility" have altered the institutional context. Today, the bottom of the labor market is replete with those trapped in part-time and contingent jobs, often earning the minimum wage. Hours are irregular. Jobs lack benefits such as insurance and pensions. A living wage, obtained through collective bargaining or legislation, is out of reach, and there is little or no opportunity for "time and a half," or overtime, pay. These conditions generate and perpetuate inequality as a cumulative causation (see Dugger 1998). The first half of the Top Ten list (see table 1) targets the features of contemporary labor markets that reinforce invidious distinctions on the basis of class and occupational stat us.

Create Good Jobs for Part-Time, Contingent, and Temporary Workers

One institution that has unraveled in recent decades is the forty-hour workweek. Initiatives to increase flexibility in employment practices and working conditions have included more diversity in work hours. The quest by employers for flexibility has also led to the growth of nonstandard employment, particularly part-time, temporary, and contingent work. According to the latest biennial survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in February 2001, the proportion of workers in contingent and alternative employment arrangements amounts to about 17.3 percent of total employment. At the very least, part-time and contingent workers should be eligible for benefits in proportion to their hours of work, a policy adopted by the European Union in 1997. Further, workers in nonstandard employment arrangements need to be covered by labor and employment regulations, including the right to organize.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Labor Market Policy: One Institutionalist's Agenda


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?