Working Hard, Working Poor: A Global Journey

Working Hard, Working Poor: A Global Journey

Working Hard, Working Poor: A Global Journey

Working Hard, Working Poor: A Global Journey


More than three billion people, nearly half of humankind, live on less than two-and-a-half U.S. dollars per person per day. Studies have shown repeatedly that the main and often the sole asset of the poor is their labor. It follows that to understand global poverty one must understand labor markets and labor earnings in the developing world. Excellent books exist on ending world poverty that discuss in depth many important aspects of economic development but do not focus on employment and self-employment, work and non-work.Working Hard, Working Poorfills in where the other books leave off.

Issues of analyzing poverty and low earnings in the developing world are quite different from those in the developed world. The discourse in the developed world is about incentive effects of social welfare programs, cultures of poverty, single-parenthood, homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse, ill health, mental illness, domestic violence, and the like. But in the developing world, different issues predominate, such as own-account work and household enterprises, agricultural work, casual employment, and informal work. And some of the policy issues--stimulating economic growth, harnessing the energies of the private sector, increasing paid employment, and raising the returns to self-employment--take a different twist. This book shows how people in poverty work, what has been effective in helping the poor earn their way out of poverty, and how readers might help.


A visit to high-tech China

It is Christmas Day 2008. Three thousand workers are busily building Thinkpad computers at a Lenovo factory in Shenzhen, China. the factory is spotless, as are the people themselves. the color of their uniforms indicates their responsibilities: light blue for assembly line workers, darker blue for team leaders, green for factory cleaners, and so on. in white lab coats with black pinstripes designating visitors, the manufacturing manager, his assistant, and I follow the assembly line around, starting with workers collecting the various parts needed for each particular computer (a process called “kitting”) to assembly to testing through software installation through further testing to packaging and finally to shipping.

These young men and women, all between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three, work extremely fast. At kitting, a bin with parts used by all Thinkpads arrives, a worker scans the order form indicating which specific additional parts are needed, and within five seconds the parts have been added to the bin. About ten seconds later, another computer arrives and the task is repeated. the entire assembly line crew stand at their stations for two hours working nonstop, to be followed by a fifteen-minute break during which they can sit on stools, go to the toilet, or socialize. Three more cycles follow until the nine-hour work day is completed.

Following the plant tour, I am taken to the dormitory where many of these workers live. Leading me are the labor supplier who recruits workers for the factory and two recent university graduates employed in entrylevel positions in Lenovo’s human resource function. Groups of young men live on the fourth floor of the concrete dormitory building, young . . .

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