We are nearly a decade removed from the start of the Great Recession, and many indicators show that the economy is doing relatively well. But during this economic catastrophe, a significant number of people faced long-term unemployment, especially in the manufacturing sector. Jobs that were once the picture of stability and security, and that helped form a vibrant post-war middle class in the United States, disappeared as companies downsized, outsourced, and retooled.
In his book, Cut Loose: Jobless and Hopeless in an Unfair Economy
(University of California Press, 2015), Assistant Professor of Sociology Victor Tan Chen
examines former autoworkers---perhaps the most iconic of blue-collar American jobs---and their experiences with long-term unemployment. Upon getting laid off from their jobs, these workers confront a completely different labor market from what they were used to. No longer can they succeed based solely on hard work---the idea of meritocracy that they have all embraced as an ideal. They learn about the higher education they need, the soft skills many jobs require, the social networks they lack, and the constant self-branding workers must now do. Believing in meritocracy, and in society's widespread culture of judgment, these workers come to blame themselves for their shortcomings and failure to adapt to the realities of today's economy. Their lives spiral downward as they cope with strained familial relationships, personal mental illness, and a society that has tossed them aside while simultaneously saying they are to blame for their own problems. Fascinatingly, Chen finds that these conditions and consequences mostly hold true for autoworkers in Canada, which is often lauded for its stronger and broader social safety net, as it does in the United States. With great empathy and astute analysis, Cut Loose
shows the human side of economic transformations bereft of sound public policies and collectivist strategies
Richard E. Ocejo is associate professor of sociology at John Jay College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). He is the author of Masters of Craft: Old Jobs in the New Urban Economy (Princeton University Press, 2017
), about the transformation of low-status occupations into cool, cultural taste-making jobs (cocktail bartenders, craft distillers, upscale mens barbers, and whole animal butchers), and of Upscaling Downtown: From Bowery Saloons to Cocktail Bars in New York City (Princeton University Press, 2014), about growth policies, nightlife, and conflict in gentrified neighborhoods. His work has appeared in such journals as
City & Community, Poetics, Ethnography, and the
European Journal of Cultural Studies. He is also the editor of Ethnography and the City: Readings on Doing Urban Fieldwork (Routledge, 2012) and serves on the editorial boards of the journals
Work and Occupations, and the
Journal for Undergraduate Ethnography.