The Disposable American: Layoffs and Their Consequences
Job security in America from the 1950s to the present. That's it in
a nutshell. Only this nutshell holds people's lives inside it.
People's personal tragedies. United Airlines machinists who thought
it was safe to use strongarm labor tactics to hold their employer
hostage. Layoffs due to outsourcing, prices, imbalance of trade. "I
set out to tell the story of our acquiescence and in doing so ran
into a festering national crisis. Until we recognize it, an
effective opposition cannot form," Louis Uchitelle reports.
Thirty million Americans have lost their jobs to layoffs since the
early 1980s. American offshore manufacturing outlets don't take
into account the community businesses that are affected: secondary
suppliers, transportation, services, etc. Uchitelle indicates that
there are three myths about layoffs: 1) The promise of a payoff.
Rebirth and stability will follow in a strong economy after
belt-tightening; 2) The laid off must save themselves, their value
was not equal to the wages and benefits that had been provided; 3)
Layoffs are measurable in dollars and cents.
Those who stay are "on the bubble." There is lost productivity,
hope, self-esteem and trust. Talking with many laid-off management
and production workers, Uchitelle reports their intimate stories.
Their dreams gone, their homes gone, and in some cases their
families broken, these workers must survive in the new economy,
learn new skills, and more often than not, live on far less
Throughout the '80s and '90s, the federal government has proposed
initiatives toward full employment, as well as several retraining
programs, job protection programs (WARN), etc. Unions cannot
protect their members from American business and have lost millions
of supporters and members in the past two decades. Yet Uchitelle
writes, "Some of the nation's most successful companies ---
Southwest Airlines, Harley-Davidson, for example --- refrain from
layoffs or limit them, openly recognizing that people who feel
secure in their jobs work better."
Interestingly, Uchitelle provides solutions: Legislation that would
prohibit economic incentives to companies to relocate or stay in a
particular state; an idea that Congress should establish minimum
standards for severance packages for laid-off workers; and a
combination of state and federal governments should subsidize the
wages of those who find new jobs, but spend several years in the
new jobs before their pay reaches the pre-layoff level.
All in all, this is a complex book that is surprisingly easy to
read. Written with factual information, opinions and interviews of
those affected, Uchitelle holds our attention, challenges our
beliefs on the American economy, and hones our business
Most importantly, Uchitelle dares us to approach this crisis as
human beings, who feel obliged to take care of one another, "or are
we going to continue as a collection of individuals, each one
increasingly concerned only with his or her well-being?"
Reviewed by Marge Fletcher on December 29, 2010