Youth Labor in America
Publication: Jan 14
Publication: Jan 14
6 x 9
13 tables, 12 figs.
The social meaning of work from youths' perspectivesRead an excerpt from the Introduction (pdf).
Youth labor is an important element in our modern economy, but as students’ consumption habits have changed, so too have their reasons for working. In Consuming Work, Yasemin Besen-Cassino reveals that many American high school and college students work for social reasons, not monetary gain. Most are affluent, suburban, white youth employed in part-time jobs at places like the Coffee Bean so they can be associated with a cool brand, hang out with their friends, and get discounts.
Consuming Work offers a fascinating picture of youth at work and how jobs are marketed to these students. Besen-Cassino also shows how the roots of gender and class inequality in the labor force have their beginnings in this critical labor sector.
Exploring the social meaning of youth at work, and providing critical insights into labor and the youth workforce, Consuming Work contributes a deeper understanding of the changing nature of American labor.
“Consuming Work deftly combines multiple research methods to capture the lived experiences of young workers in service sector jobs and to challenge commonly held assumptions about their characteristics and motivations. We learn, for example, that young workers in the United States are often affluent students who find an identity and satisfy their social needs through what some observers may regard as ‘bad’ part-time jobs. By means of ethnographic investigations and quantitative analyses of data from the United States and other industrialized countries, this book underscores the diversity and the links between work and consumption that characterize the youth labor market.”
—Arne L. Kalleberg, Kenan Distinguished Professor of Sociology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and author of Good Jobs, Bad Jobs: The Rise of Polarized and Precarious Employment Systems in the United States, 1970s to 2000s
"This is an original and innovative book with rich, qualitative research—in particular, of niche/boutique workplaces. Besen-Cassino makes an important contribution by connecting the production of teen work with larger issues of consumption and branding. Consuming Work fills a void by focusing on work and higher-income, better-educated youth—a subset of youth employment research that has previously been neglected. This book will prompt a lively discussion of the lived experiences of teen workers."
—Mary Gatta, Senior Scholar, Wider Opportunities for Women
"Consuming Work is a must read for all those who are interested in understanding why the millennial generation currently faces declining opportunities for meaningful employment. Besen-Cassino provides a sweeping analysis of the reasons that young workers are losing out in the contemporary capitalist labor market, where the growth in trendy jobs has brought positions that may engage young people but that offer no viable long-term career ladder. This book is an excellent contribution to the literature on the new dead-end labor markets."
—Immanuel Ness, Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and editor of New Forms of Worker Organization
"Besen-Cassino counters conventional wisdom that young people take undesirable service-sector jobs only because they need the money.... The author also offers a critical look at how youth turn to the workplace to fill gaps left by their impersonal educational institutions and at how workforce disparities based on race, gender, and class have their roots in workers' early experiences.... VERDICT (T)his engaging read will appeal to scholars of the sociology of work, as well as some high school and college students and their teachers, mentors, and parents. It could also be of great use to those who hire millennials or who work to help economically disadvantaged young people."
— Library Journal
"Sociologist Besen-Cassino draws on qualitative interviews, rich ethnographic observations of an upscale coffee shop, and quantitative data from American and international surveys to make a provocative, largely convincing argument.... (Her) emphasis on the subjective experiences of young workers and her analysis of these experiences adds significantly to the field. Summing Up: Highly recommended."
"Consuming Work is a book of uncommon breadth. The book is divided into six substantive chapters and examines a range of considerations relating to the subject of youth work.... Besen-Cassino covers tremendous ground, utilizing a range of materials for analysis including ethnographic, in-depth interview and survey data on youth workers between the ages of 16 and 21.... The take-away is greater breadth of understanding of the complex field of youth employment and a deeper appreciation of the meaning and purpose with which American youth who do work, work.... (W)e are left with a deeper appreciation of the role meaning plays in structuring youth labor, how inequalities in work are reproduced, and the shifting terrain of youths’ social worlds."
— Gender & Society
"Consuming Workis promising in its detailed examination of the intersection of work, consumption, and leisure for middle- and upper-class (mostly white) college students who work in ‘cool’ but low-wage retail jobs.... Besen-Cassino’s focus...(on) the young workers themselves...is both interesting and valuable, as it gives voice to a group of workers from whom we do not usually hear in scholarly accounts of work… Besen-Cassino rightly argues (that) the youth labor market is a fascinating and important site to explore the reproduction of inequality and other key labor-market dynamics in the United States. In its detailed study of affluent youth labor, Consuming Work provides rich data, many answers, and even more provocative questions to explore."
— Social Forces
"Besen-Cassino uses an impressively wide range of research methods, including ethnographic fieldwork in two suburban branches of a coffee chain ('The Coffee Bean'), interviews with young workers, and analysis of data from the National Longitudinal Study of Youth and the World Values Study. The result is a fascinating and probing...analysis of the motivations and experiences of what Besen-Cassino refers to as the 'decommodified' young workers who serve cappuccinos at Starbucks and who work the register at retail stores like Urban Outfitters and Abercrombie & Fitch.... Consuming Work draws our attention to the deeply troubling fact...that the affluent workers who make up the bulk of the youth labor force do not see their meager pay and lack of benefits as problematic. The book thus sets the stage for future research along a number of different dimensions.... I would urge all who are interested in work, labor markets, consumption, and youth to read this important book."
"Among the many strengths of this book is its challenge to existing conceptions of low-skill service employment.... Using data from the World Values Survey, (Besen-Cassino) compares youth work in the United States with other countries, and using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, she explores the origins of the gender gap in youth earnings too. The real fruit of this study, however, is its intervention into the way sociologists have depicted youth labor and bad jobs.... Consuming Work should inform future research about youth labor in America and in comparative perspective."
—Work and Occupations
“Consuming Work uses an impressive variety of mixed methods.... A strength of Consuming Work is its exploration of gender inequality.... The book’s constructionist approach positions youth as the central actors in their own experiences, offering a clearer picture of their motivations and the social meaning they create through work. Importantly, Besen-Cassino underscores that the majority of youth workers are advantaged in several important ways (race, ethnicity, education, socioeconomic status), which set the stage for early and increasing inequality.”
Table of Contents
1. Consuming Work: Introduction to Youth Work in America
2. “Would You Like an Application with Your Coffee?”
3. Fun or Exploitation? The Lived Experience of Suburban Youth Work
4. Pay or Play? The Youth Labor Force in the United States and Other Industrialized Countries
5. “They Need Me Here”: Work as a Perceived Alternative to School
6. “White, Young, Middle Class”: Aesthetic Labor, Race, and Class in the Youth Labor Force
7. Origins of the Gender Wage Gap: Gender Inequality in the Youth Labor Force
8. Conclusion: The Economic Recession and the Future of Youth Labor
Appendix: Notes on Methodology