Low-Wage Work in the Wealthy World

January 06, 2010

This volume grows out of the research on the United States summarized in Low-Wage America: How Employers Are Reshaping Opportunities in the Workplace, which sought to understand how U.S. firms were responding to economic globalization, deregulation, and technological progress, and how such responses were affecting typically low-wage front-line workers. The focus is placed here on five industries –retail, hotels, hospitals, food processing, and call centers– in each of five European countries –Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. The varied experience of European firms offers a rich source of insights into the interaction of firm strategies, labor-market institutions, and economic outcomes for low-wage workers. Relative to the United States, the generally higher degrees of government regulation of product and labor markets and the substantially higher rates of unionization and coverage by collective bargaining agreements in Europe mean that European firms typically face greater constraints on the business strategies than similar firms in the United States. The volume consists of two parts. The first (Chapters 1 through 4) reviews key features of the six national economies, their labor-market institutions, and low-wage work. Chapter 2 presents our main findings on the level and trends in low-wage work, and the principal characteristics of the low-wage labor markets in each country. Chapter 3 analyzes the national pay-setting institutions, broadly defined, that are the primary determinants of wages in each of the six economies. Chapter 4 reviews the effect of national institutions on the supply side of the low-wage labor market. The second half of the volume (Chapters 5 through 10) presents the five industry case studies. Chapter 5 is an overview of the main industry-level findings. Chapter 6 examines retail; Chapter 7, hotels; Chapter 8, hospitals; Chapter 9, food processing; and Chapter 10, call centers.