The End of Work: The Decline of the Global Labor Force and the Dawn of the Post-Market Era / When Work Disappears: The Work of the New Urban Poor

By Goar, Carla D. | Journal of Leisure Research, First Quarter 1998 | Go to article overview

The End of Work: The Decline of the Global Labor Force and the Dawn of the Post-Market Era / When Work Disappears: The Work of the New Urban Poor


Goar, Carla D., Journal of Leisure Research


Rifkin, Jeremy. (1995). The End of Work: The Decline of the Global Labor Force and the Dawn of the Post-Market Era. 350 Pages. Hard cover (ISBN 037477-7793).

Wilson, W. J. (1996). When Work Disappears: The Work of the New Urban Poor 322 Pages. Hard cover. (ISBN 0-394-57935-6).

Economic transformations of the United States labor market have been particularly devastating to certain segments of the working population. Thousands have been displaced as the result of the shifting nature of labor. This has important implications for leisure studies as issues concerning increasing amounts of discretionary time are sure to arise. Rifkin, a political economist who specializes in urban and environmental issues, and Wilson, a sociologist who is known for his works concerning the urban underclass, describe these shifting transformations, the subsequent restructuring of labor, and the effects of these phenomena on labor, primarily on the AfricanAmerican labor sector. Both authors provide policy recommendations as to how negative economic changes might have a lessened impact on this community. The authors begin by summarizing the devastation that occurs when work is not available in a community. Rifkin suggests that as automation becomes more sophisticated all sectors of the current labor force are in danger of displacement. He introduces the concept of a "workless world" in which millions will be permanently displaced from the economic labor process due to entire segments of the labor force being shrunk, restructured, or eliminated. Rifkin provides a summary of the current technological revolution and describes how labor-saving mechanisms, initially created to increase productivity and create leisure time, have contributed to the reduction of wages and the threatening of livelihoods. He discusses the efforts of previous economic transformations and emphasizes that though these were devastating to certain segments of the labor force, other sectors of the economy were able to open and absorb the displaced workers. In the face of advancing automation, Rifkin argues, all sectors of the labor force are struggling for continued existence.

Building on Rifkin's ideas, Wilson (1980, 1987) argues that the disappearance of work and the consequences thereof are largely responsible for the blight experienced by the residents of present-day inner-cities. Due primarily to economic transformations in the labor sector, the current epidemic of joblessness has had devastating effects on the family, education, crime and deviance, and race relations, as well as employment opportunities. Wilson begins by discussing the effects of low social organization on the urban poor.

Social organization is the "extent to which the residents of a neighborhood are able to maintain effective social control and realize their common goals" (p. 20). This occurs through the existence of social networks, the collective supervision and responsibility of residents, and through formal and informal institutions. Wilson states that the higher the level of unemployment in a community, the lower the level of social control. He uses this concept to illustrate the consequences of joblessness. In communities largely composed of the working poor, individuals are able to retain some semblance of social organization which is manifested in various obligations, expectations, and significant familial relationships between members of that community. In areas where work has disappeared, the residents must face new problems such as crime and violence, which tend to undermine social organization. These communities, now faced with both unemployment and weak social organization, continue to fall behind the rest of society.

Rifkin and Wilson offer different illustrations of worker displacement; however, the population being examined is the same. The workers in Rifkin's example are composed of rural African-Americans in the pre-industrial south. Wilson takes us further through time as we examine the second displacement of this population in the post-industrial north. …

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