F. Ross Johnson Virtual Colloquium on Precarity "Lives on the Edge"

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Thursday, November 19th, 2020

Thursday, November 19, 20202:00PM - 4:00PMOnline Event, Online Event
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Join us at the Centre for the Study of the United States for the F. Ross Johnson Virtual Colloquium on Precarity. “Lives on the Edge” is about the different forms precarity takes – a social, political and economic balancing act disproportionately experienced by members of already marginalized and disadvantaged groups. We will be welcoming five guest speakers who will give talks on the following topics:

“Home Care Fault Lines: Tensions and Alliances across Flexibility and Security”
Cynthia Cranford, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Toronto

Precarious employment scholarship shows how flexible labour markets generate growing insecurity for workers and rising profits for employers, since legislation, and many unions, take the Fordist factory and its ‘standard’ (full-time, permanent) employment relationship as the norm. We know much less about the flexibility-security trade off when claims for flexibility come not from profit motives but from social service needs of citizens. This presentation uncovers flexibility-security tensions within personal support services – which provides help with intimate daily activities like bathing, eating and housework – based on the forthcoming book Home Care Fault Lines: Understanding Tensions and Creating Alliances. Home Care Fault Lines analyzes the multiple dynamics that exacerbate or mitigate tension between workers’ claims for security in work and employment and elderly and disabled people’s need for flexibility in service delivery and excavates the potential for flexible care and secure work. Based on interviews with over 300 people it includes the vantage points of workers, service users, labour and disability activists, employers and state officials to compare four state-funded programs in California and Ontario, together covering assistance to adults with physical disabilities and elderly people, to people across and within class, racial and gender lines and inside and outside of families. This presentation compares a California case with two Ontario cases to illustrate the importance of analyzing flexibility and security at both the labour market and more intimate labour process levels, of conceptualizing tensions between home care users and workers based on their claims for flexibility and security at both levels, and of placing tensions within the social organization of work. This analysis confirms the labour market flexibility-security trade off highlighted in precarious employment scholarship and extends it to consider flexibility-security tensions in intimate labour processes. It underscores the need for collective representation and organizations that recognize tensions and support compromises in the labour process, as well as labour market intermediaries and adequate state funding, in order to support both flexible care and secure work.

Cynthia Cranford is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto. Her research analyzes the nexus of gender, labor and migration through in-depth case studies and broader analyses of precarious work in the U.S. and Canada. Her book Home Care Fault Lines: Understanding Tensions and Creating Alliances was published with Cornell University’s ILR Press June 2020. Cranford is also the co-author of Self-employed Workers Organize: Law, Policy and Unions (McGill-Queens University Press) and her work appears in academic journals such as Work, Employment and Society, Social Problems, Relations Industrielles, Labor Studies Journal, Just Labour, Gender & Society, Critical Sociology, the American Sociological Review and in several edited volumes.

“Administrative burden, precarity, and public policy”
Pamela Herd, Professor of Public Policy, Georgetown University

This talk will focus on how conservatives are employing administrative burdens as a mechanism to weaken social welfare policies. In short, conservatives are using the administrative state to undermine policies they’d like to dismantle, but have been able to do so via legislative change. Administrative burdens are the learning, compliance, and psychological costs that people encounter when to trying to access, and stay on, critical social welfare supports. In short, they are the administrative barriers that preclude access to programs for which people should otherwise be eligible. I will detail how these newly constructed burdens, in programs ranging from Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance to the Social Security Disability programs and Medicare, will increase health and economic precarity among poor Americans, with disproportionate impacts on women and black Americans.

Pamela Herd’s research focuses on inequality and how it intersects with health, aging, and policy. She is also an expert in survey research and biodemographic methods. She is currently the Chair of the Board of Overseers for the General Social Survey, a board member for the Population Association of American, and a standing member of a National Institutes for Health review panel for the Social and Population Sciences. She has received grant awards for her work from the National Institutes for Health, National Institutes on Aging, the Russell Sage Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and AARP. Her work has appeared in journals such as the American Sociological Review, Social Forces, the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, Gender & Society, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Her recent book Administrative Burden: Policymaking by other Means was reviewed in the New York Review of Books.

“The Great Balancing Act: Households, Debt, and Economic Insecurity”
Michelle Maroto, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Alberta

Many households in the United States regularly engage in balancing acts. Each month, they try to figure out how to cover their bills on often limited incomes, while worrying what might happen if an unexpected expense comes up. This situation is not uncommon. Due in part to the rise of nonstandard employment and declining social safety nets, balancing finances is much more precarious for households these days. What happens when households are no longer able to keep up this balancing act? How do households respond to economic insecurity? In answering such questions, this talk draws on data from the U.S. Survey of Consumer Finances to examine varying experiences of economic insecurity and households’ strategies for managing economic insecurity with a special emphasis on the influence of household debt levels.

Michelle Maroto is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Alberta. Her recent projects address the many dimensions of wealth inequality, the role of household structure in determining economic security, and labor market outcomes for people with different types of disabilities. She is currently embarking on a large-scale mixed methods project that will bring together secondary data, multiple online surveys, and in-depth interviews to provide a better understanding of the complicated dynamics behind social class in Canada.

“Feeding the Crisis: Welfare Precarity in the 21st Century United States”
Maggie Dickinson, Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies, Guttman Community College – CUNY

Since the Turn of the 21st Century, the food safety net in the United States has expanded dramatically, contradicting the conventional wisdom that welfare programs have been continually cut back since the 1980’s. Food assistance, including federal programs like SNAP (formerly food stamps) and emergency food programs like soup kitchens and food pantries, have become the leading edge of the response to poverty and growing economic insecurity. Food assistance, as it is currently structured, offers a modicum of care to low wage workers, excludes people on the margins of the formal labor force, and entrenches long standing beliefs about the role of charity and the state in addressing human needs. By creating distinctions between a so-called ‘deserving’ working poor and a stigmatized and excluded reserve army of labor, the food safety net is feeding the broader economic crisis experienced by working class people today. And yet, paying close attention to the political insights of hungry people points to the ways the current welfare state in the U.S. could be transformed to end hunger and precarity.

Maggie Dickinson is an assistant professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Guttman Community College – CUNY. Her first book, Feeding the Crisis: Care and Abandonment in America’s Food Safety Net, is published by the University of California Press. As a cultural anthropologist, her research is broadly concerned with food systems, the welfare state, inequality and the politics of redistribution.

“Race, Inequality, and Mobility: The Role of Violence”
Trevon D. Logan, Professor of Economics and Associate Dean, College of Arts and Sciences, The Ohio State University

Violence plays a large role in historical inequality. This talk will highlight the role that violence has played in resource theft from Black Americans and from the persistence of inequality politically and economically in the US today.

Bio: Dr. Trevon D. Logan graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He went on to receive two master’s degrees demography and economics and his doctoral degree in Economics from the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Logan is an internationally recognized scholar in economic demography, economic history and applied microeconomics. His current research focuses on historical health patterns, racial discrimination, political economy, mortality, morbidity, and racial disparities in health. His award-winning research has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, the Economist, NBC, Bloomberg, CNN, and other major media outlets.

Co-organized by:
Shari Eli, Associate Professor of Economics, University of Toronto
David Pettinicchio, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Toronto
Edward Sammons, Assistant Professor of Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies, University of Toronto


Mio Otsuka


Maggie Dickinson
Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies, Guttman Community College – CUNY

Cynthia Cranford
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Toronto

Pamela Herd
Professor of Public Policy, Georgetown University

Michelle Maroto
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Alberta

Trevon D. Logan
Professor of Economics, The Ohio State University

Shari Eli
Associate Professor of Economics, University of Toronto

David Pettinicchio
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Toronto

Edward Sammons
Assistant Professor of Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies, University of Toronto

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