Inside Jobs: An Up-Close Look at the Lives of...
Abigail Carlton

Abigail Carlton Managing Director, The Rockefeller Foundation

Laura Gordon

Laura Gordon Managing Director, The Rockefeller Foundation

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December 01, 2016

Inside Jobs: An Up-Close Look at the Lives of American Workers

Inside Jobs
Courtesy of Rebecca Clarke/The Atlantic

Forty-two years ago, Studs Terkel published his seminal book Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do.  It was a novel idea at the time, to speak directly to people to simply learn about their jobs and how they felt about them – without an agenda or a political perspective.

So much has changed in the world of work since Terkel’s book was first published. Today, workers rarely spend their entire careers with one employer. Manufacturing jobs, which numbered nearly 20 million by the end of the 1970s, have decreased by nearly half. And independent workers, from freelance contractors to “gig” workers who connect to jobs through platforms like Uber, now account for at least 25% of the US labor force.

In today’s political climate… it feels like a good time to step away from the data and listen directly to people – with no bias and no agenda – talk about their jobs and how they feel about them.

And yet, so many of the fundamental experiences of work remain unchanged. Workers in America still spend the vast majority of their waking hours on the job.  These hours can be backbreaking, rewarding, or simply a means to put food on the table.  But each working person in our country has a story to tell about their job. 

 

We talk a lot about the future of work in today’s political climate with the growth of technology changing work, and a clear sense of division and misunderstanding between so many Americans.

And so once again, it feels like a good time to step away from the data and listen directly to people – with no bias and no agenda – talk about their jobs and how they feel about them.  We are proud to have supported The Atlantic to reimagine Studs Terkel’s work in their newly-released series Inside Jobs, where a team of reporters interviewed over 100 Americans simply talking about their jobs.  These stories, of a librarian, a train conductor, a cattle farmer and many others paint a picture of what work really looks like in America today. We hope this series will help shed light on where we are, so we can have a better sense of where we need to go.

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