What Workers Say

Decades of Struggle and How to Make Real Opportunity Now

Roberta Rehner Iversen
Book Cover

PB: $29.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-2237-8
Publication: Jun 22

HC: $104.50
EAN: 978-1-4399-2236-1
Publication: Jun 22

Ebook: $29.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-2238-5
Publication: Jun 22

198 pages
6 x 9
2 tables, 1 figure

Voices from the labor market on the chronic lack of advancement

Read Chapter 1 (PDF).


What have jobs really been like for the past 40 years and what do the workers themselves say about them? In What Workers Say, Roberta Iversen shows that for employees in labor market industries—like manufacturing, construction, printing—as well as those in service-producing jobs, like clerical work, healthcare, food service, retail, and automotive—jobs are often discriminatory, are sometimes dangerous and exploitive, and seldom utilize people’s full range of capabilities. Most importantly, they fail to provide any real opportunity for advancement.

What Workers Say takes its cue from Studs Terkel’s Working, as Iversen interviewed more than 1,200 workers to present stories about their labor market jobs since 1980. She puts a human face on the experiences of a broad range of workers indicating what their jobs were and are truly like. Iversen reveals how transformations in the political economy of waged work have shrunk or eliminated opportunity for workers, families, communities, and productivity. What Workers Say also offers an innovative proposal for compensated civil labor that could enable workers, their communities, labor market organizations, and the national infrastructure to actually flourish.

Table of Contents

Dedication and Funding Acknowledgments

1. Hard Work Hasn’t Been Paying Off: Creating Real Opportunity for Millions of Workers
2. The Whir of Machines: Manufacturing, Construction, and Printing Jobs, 1980s to Today
Interviews: Tisha, Joseph, Randy, Kevin
3. The Big Shift from Manufacturing Jobs to Service Jobs: Clerical Work, 1980s to Today
Interviews: Roselyn, Kenya, Vanessa, Fatima, Helena, Wendy, Loretta, Isabell, Ayesha, Shannon, Susan
4. In Sickness and in Health: Healthcare Training and Jobs, 1980s to Today
Interviews: Laquita, Faith, Ebony, Tasha, Shanquitta, Annie, Martina
5. Can I Help You? Work in the Retail Trades, 1980s to Today
Interviews: Noel, Joseph, Hard Working Blessed, Michelle, Shanquitta, Tamicka, Adele, Tom
6 .Homes, Buildings, Cars: Real Estate, Architecture, and Automotive Service Work in the 2000s
Interviews: Alex, John, George
7. Turning Struggles into Flourishing: Creating Real Opportunity through Compensated Civil Labor

Appendix: The People and the Research

About the Author(s)

Roberta Rehner Iversen is an Associate Professor in the School of Social Policy & Practice at the University of Pennsylvania. She is also a Faculty Associate in Penn’s Institute for Urban Research. She is the coauthor of Jobs Aren't Enough: Toward a New Economic Mobility for Low-Income Families (Temple).