The Poverty of Work

Selling Servant, Slave and Temporary Labor on the Free Market


In The Poverty of Work, Van Arsdale goes inside the world of temping and discovers a type of work dreadfully insecure yet growing rapidly. Furthermore, through a comprehensive historiography, he illustrates how employment agencies moved from England to North America during the colonial period, where they sold workers into many deprived employment statuses, including indentured servitude and slavery.

Van Arsdale contends that had the history of employment agencies been better understood, they would have likely been abolished with slavery, or at the very least, more tightly controlled by government. Today, left largely unregulated, employment agencies are powerful corporations generating astonishing revenue by selling flexible, on-demand temporary workers. Unfortunately, this labor is trapping millions in a cycle of unemployment, despair, and poverty.

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David Van Arsdale, Ph.D. (2004), Syracuse University, is Professor of Sociology at the State University of New York at Onondaga Community College. His research commonly addresses issues of work and culture, economy and development, and race and ethnicity.
List of Figures and Tables

1. A Perfect Marriage: Flexible Employment Standards and the Staffing Industry
Flexible Fields, Flexible Factories
The Globalization of Flexible Employment Standards
Non-Corporate Employment Agencies
Corporate Employment Agencies
Aims of the Book
Organization and Methodology

2. Inside Employment Agency Labor: Participant Observation Experiences
Anatomy of a Corporate Employment Agency
Getting Hired, Demographics, Health Risks
Waiting Rooms, Dispatch Anxiety, Low-Wages
The Dawn of Virtual Waiting Rooms
Dispatch from a Corporate Employment Agency
Waiting for Work
On a Ticket
The Revolving Door
“Why Don’t You Get a Job Someplace Else?”
“Catch 22:” Trapped in Temping
The Paradox of Flexible Labor
The Growth of Unregulated Hiring
Dispatch from a Non-Corporate Employment Agency
Temping at the Food Factory
Temping at the Plastics Factory

3. Exchange Alley: The Origins of Employment Agencies
A Labor of investment Capitalism
Early Contradictions in At-Will Employment Relations: Registering Servants and Masters
The Privatization of Employment Agencies
Case Study: The Intelligence Office for Seamen
Growth and Competition among Intelligence Offices in London
Public Criticisms of Employment Agencies in London
Adam Smith on Intelligence Offices

4. From Slave Agency to Temporary Help: The Historical Development of Employment Agencies
The Labor Trade West of London
Marketing Racial and Ethnic Employment Statuses: The Limitation of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Theory on the Labor Trade
The Rise of Benevolent Intelligence Offices
The Anti-slavery Intelligence Office
The Emigrant Depot Intelligence Office
Selling Bridget
Trafficking Women Into Brothels
From Intelligence Office to Employment Agency
The Discontents of Employment Agency Labor
From Employment Agency to Temporary Help
Misrepresenting Intelligence Offices in North American Literary Rhetoric

5. The Poverty of Work: Shifting from Jobs that Solved Poverty to Jobs that Make It
Returning to the Contemporary Labor Trade
The Changing Nature and Provisions of Work
The Production of the Idea of Work as a Solution to Poverty
The Production of Poverty in Work
Selling the Unemployed as Leverage for Capital Gains

6. Preventing the Reproduction of Deprived Employment Statuses among Temporary Laborers
The Pitfalls of Unregulated Triangular Employment Exchanges: Revising Stowe’s Thesis on the Labor Trade
Solutions for Preventing Deprived Employment
Legislative Solutions
Community and Organized Labor Actions

International Staffing Companies, Economic Overview
U.S. Staffing Companies, Economic Overview

All interested in sociology, labor studies and history, race and ethnic studies, social and economic stratification, political economy, and American studies.