Feature

Are flexible workers disposable?

Now, rather than a flexible workforce, some experts believe the U.S. economy has “become more organized around the disposable worker,” said Clive Crook in the Financial Times.

Clive Crook
Financial Times

One of the U.S. economy’s greatest strengths “might have become toxic,” said Clive Crook. Traditionally, U.S. companies have had the ability to hire and fire quickly. When demand falls, businesses cut jobs, but people usually get back to work quickly after a recession. That “labor-market flexibility”—impossible in overregulated European markets—is one of the unique features of the U.S. economy.

But “things might work differently this time” for a couple of reasons. First, the recession was unusually hard-hitting, and the country is suffering from unprecedented long-term unemployment rates. Second, the housing slump has cut into worker mobility: The unemployed can’t afford to sell their houses in order to relocate to stronger labor markets. Long-term joblessness erodes skills, and makes people even less employable, setting up a vicious cycle.

Now, rather than a flexible workforce, some experts believe the U.S. economy has “become more organized around the disposable worker.” If that’s true, what used to be a distinctive U.S. economic strength is now a certified liability.

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