Exploring the Concept of "Long Term Precariousness": Towards a New Indicator
Precariousness’ increasingly academic and political popularity and its undeniable presence in the contemporary labour market call for a more critical and thorough analysis and measurement of the process, especially when arguments of it being “the new normal” for the younger generations are so current. The team of the Project “Linked Lives: a mixed multilevel longitudinal approach to family life course” develops a two-folded argument in this presentation.
1) The conceptual confusion and ambiguity of the term “precarity” is tackled, even if recognized as consequence of the complexity and variation of the phenomenon over historical time and across generations. Labour market precarity has varying definitions, ranging from aspects of salary to dignifying work, to stability or existence of contract, to relative inequality towards other professional classes, genders or qualifications, to moral or sexual harassment, or failure to fulfil promises concerning social mobility. An alternative, but more comparable – namely generationally -, definition is proposed.
2) On the other hand, albeit the conceptual vagueness of “precarity”, longitudinal qualitative evidence has shown that the effects of precarity, such as what happens with unemployment, are not immune to the influence of the duration of the experience, nor are they equal across generations. Therefore, just as long term unemployment produces more serious and scarring effects than isolated or short episodes of unemployment, so does the experience and effects of precarity vary in intensity, content, and duration. We argue for the need to create a “long term” precarity indicator, and explore some of the existing longitudinal variables and data sets to do so.
The Dynamics of Youth Employment Precarity: Drivers, Trajectories, and Life-Course Outcomes
University of Warsaw, Poland; Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences
I present the results of a quantitative study of employment precarity in Poland, using longitudinal data on the occupational careers of labor market entrants. The study is focused on conditional effects shaping the dynamics of employment precarity and its life-course outcomes, in particular, the ways in which individual and family resources available to youth affect labor market trajectories or mitigate the negative outcomes of early career instability. Employment precarity is conceptualized as a specific career pattern, observed over many years, involving spells of recurrent non-standard employment separated by periods of joblessness, coupled with low and/or unstable income. Such a conceptualization overcomes the limitations of previous research, which attempt to capture precarity by analyzing either the type of employment contract observed at one moment in time, or indicators of subjective job / labor market insecurity. Non-standard contracts do not always entail employment precarity due to their possible stepping-stone effects for some individuals, while subjective indicators are affected by psychological coping mechanisms and perceptions of reference group status.
The analysis is based on data from the Polish Panel Survey POLPAN. POLPAN is the longest-running panel study in East Central Europe, covering the period 1988-2018. Data are collected every five years using face-to-face interviews with a national sample of adults aged 21 and older (for the youngest cohort, renewal samples are used). The POLPAN database includes detailed longitudinal information on each job held by the respondents since the start of their careers, their full educational histories, income and household composition, and health/well-being indicators.
Graduates’ Over-qualification. Performing the Border of Precarious Employment in Romania’s call centres
Europe has the most educated generation in its history. Yet, many graduates work in other fields; have jobs that require lower skills, which offer limited opportunities for professional growth. They are overqualified/ under-employed. Guy Standing considered this a ‘historically unique’ defining feature of the precariat (2011). While statistical data builds up, there is a weak sociological understanding of what over-qualification means to young people, how it reconfigures their views on themselves, on education, work and the future. Also, the evidence on employers’ perspectives remains ambiguous. The notion of ‘right skills’ is overused, but under-defined, as employers send confusing or conflicting messages about the actual skills they are looking for.
This research takes the case of call centre operators as illustrative for thinking through the complex problem of over-qualification in the particular situation of Romania, the home of an expanding outsourced customer-support industry. The presentation will introduce the preliminary findings of a qualitative sociological project, now in progress.
The research is based on in-depth interviews with call-centre operators and workplace supervisors/ HR staff. The presentation argues that graduates elaborate complex strategies for making sense of their otherwise precarious employment. Their narratives combine overlapping, yet-contradictory layers: (i) prospects of white-collar career progression; (ii) the appearance of choice and exploration; (iii) the crude realization that employment is tiresome and instrumental (read: ‘a way to pay the bills’ cf. Koeber, 2002). Ultimately, the presentation interrogates recruitment and managerial strategies that maintain the appearance of white-collar jobs while accommodating precariousness.
Living on the Brink: Enforced Liminality in the Lives of Young University-educated EU Migrants with Precarious Paths
University of Helsinki, Finland
In the context of labour markets where young people risk becoming marginalized, intra-EU migration has come to appear increasingly compelling for young Europeans looking for opportunities to transit from education to professional careers. However, when young EU migrants experience precarious conditions in their employment paths, they may find themselves in an ambiguous position, shaped by unexpected barriers that hinder the access to welfare rights and legal residence for foreign EU citizen in precarity. The paper draws on narrative interviews with young university-educated migrants from southern and northern Europe who had moved to Brussels with hopes of advancing their careers, but subsequently experienced unemployment and work under precarious arrangements. How do they make sense of their stalled transitions after getting caught in a limbo between precarious work and the institutional barriers that together constrain them from striving towards their aspirations? The article suggests the concept of ‘enforced liminality’ to illustrate these experiences that, despite the variation in young migrants’ circumstances conditioned by their social and national backgrounds, were often characterized by a sense of living on the brink. This means that they faced risks of falling, not only from the career ladder, but also through the unreliable safety nets of the welfare state, as well as, falling into exhaustion and falling back to parental home. The findings indicate that migratory experiences like this may carry along material, professional, social, psychological and even physical scarring effects over time.