So they've kind of given up. They don't talk like they expect hardly anything from their employers. I have people say, "Well, I guess they owe you a paycheck and some amount of respect." That's it, you know.
But the people who had high expectations and then found that their expectations were in some way betrayed, those people were angry. So, oddly, it was the stably employed people who were laid off for some reason or just were disappointed in some way—maybe they didn't get as high a raise as they expected or a bonus—the people who had expectations: They were angry.
But the people employed in"regular work"—not, say, work that's supposed to be a "forever career" (the firefighter, the public school teacher, that kind of work)—but everyone else that I was interviewing, they were like, "Oh yeah, insecurity, that's just the way it is now." So they were doing this elaborate emotional work on themselves to get themselves feeling the right way. And the right way was blaming themselves.
Rosen: It seems to me that there are really enormous implications for a society that accepts that employers owe their workers nothing more than a paycheck. I think you would see it in a lackluster labor movement, and perhaps lackluster social policy as well. Can you talk about the ways this attitude contributes to the dynamic?
Pugh: I actually think there's probably a feedback loop here. But, yes. By kind of casting job insecurity as inevitable, they cut themselves off at the knees. They chip away at the capacity to organize against that.
And actually, you find that, I think, in the dominant conversation today. There's still a left out there, or a progressive movement out there, but they're looking at different things. They're not complaining about job insecurity. Instead, for example, you'll find much more conversation nowadays talking about schedule unpredictability, which I think is very important, and about wage stagnation. Those are the two primary ways in which the public conversation on the side of workers is going.
But it's like they've given up on this other huge thing, which is: Do employers owe any kind of loyalty to their employees? That's not a conversation that we have anymore. I see it in a crippled union, or organized-workers, movement. And I see it in this kind of truncated, or kind of oddly shaped public conversation in which some topics seem not to be available for discussion.
Rosen: One of the things I see you getting at in your book is that the effects of the instability people experience at work don't just stop at their finances, but can also affect their family lives. What are the consequences of insecurity outside of work?
Pugh: This part was very crucial to this project. It was very foundational to this project. Because another thing that I feel like we're not talking about is the wider implications of job insecurity. When an employer decides to lay off people, we act—the business press, the public conversation—we act like that is a decision that carries implications for the worker only at work.