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The Disposable American: Layoffs and Their Consequences Hardcover – March 28, 2006


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (March 28, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400041171
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400041176
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #928,847 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Devoting a book to the necessity of preserving jobs is perhaps a futile endeavor in this age of deregulation and outsourcing, but veteran New York Times business reporter Uchitelle manages to make the case that corporate responsibility should entail more than good accounting and that six (going on seven) successive administrations have failed miserably in protecting the American people from greedy executives, manipulative pension fund managers, leveraged buyouts and plain old bad business practices. In the process, he says, we've gone from a world where job security, benevolent interventionism and management/worker loyalty were taken for granted to a dysfunctional, narcissistic and callous incarnation of pre-Keynesian capitalism. The resulting "anxious class" now suffers from a host of frightening ills: downward mobility, loss of self-esteem, transgenerational trauma and income volatility, to name a few. Uchitelle animates his arguments through careful reporting on the plight of laid-off Stanley Works toolmakers and United Airlines mechanics. Descriptions of their difficulties are touching and even tragic; they are also, alas, laborious and repetitive. And Uchitelle's solutions are not entirely convincing: neither forcing companies to abide by a "just cause" clause when they fire someone, for instance, nor doubling the minimum wage are likely to increase employment. Yet Uchitelle's basic argument—that no American government has taken significant steps to curb "the unwinding of social value" caused by corporate greed— is all too accurate. (Mar. 31)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

In his first book, Uchitelle, an award--winning business reporter for the New York Times, delves into the unspoken consequences of corporate layoffs in America. He shatters the widely held myth that layoffs are ultimately good for the economy; that in America there is always work, and good pay, for the educated and skilled; and that new training creates jobs. Layoffs, which were mostly a blue-collar phenomena in the 1970s and were necessary to combat the influx of cheap competition from Asia, have become a way of life for corporate America and have cut deep into the white-collar workforce, ending job security as we knew it. Entire classes of people are being caught in a new trend of "downward mobility." Uchitelle takes examples from places such as Stanley Tool Works, the largest employer in New Britain, Connecticut, which slashed the workforce and moved operations overseas, and United Airlines, where mechanics receiving premium wages were "outsourced." Emphasizing the hidden psychological toll that layoffs take on the individual, Uchitelle examines the entire issue in a sympathetic yet realistic light. David Siegfried
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

They obviously weren't hurting too badly.
Laurie40
Uchitelle has written a first-rate, highly accessible analysis of the job layoffs problem.
R. Parker
This is a fact, and the author discusses this in the book.
Alan Beggerow

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

74 of 76 people found the following review helpful By J. Grattan VINE VOICE on April 6, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The essential point of THE DISPOSABLE AMERICAN is that layoffs, or involuntary separations, have become commonplace as a company strategy to enhance the bottom-line with profound consequences to not only the laid-off employees, but to many other parties, including family, community, and the company itself. Three main "myths" are promulgated concerning layoffs: (1) the flood of layoffs over the last twenty years is not indicative of a foreseeable, long-term trend to instability in employment; (2) laid-off workers have lost value and must correct that through training and education, and failure to do so is confirmation of personal shortcomings; and (3) layoffs are no more than issues of cost savings and wages lost with human concerns being irrelevant. These myths capture the stance that corporations and governmental agencies, employment consultants, and the mainstream media typically take regarding layoffs.

But the author rejects those simplistic and convenient myths. He contends that this multi-decade trend of layoffs is a decided break from the employer-employee rapport that existed for the seventy years before the 1970s. Companies are now mostly not restrained by strong unions. Employment-at-will has become the operative policy in lieu of the restrictions found in bargaining agreements that require "just cause" for layoffs. In other words, companies layoff arbitrarily because they can get away with it.

The author is especially concerned about the psychological devastation that often accompanies layoffs that is unacknowledged in official statistics. It is not unknown that individuals' self-esteem is largely tied to their jobs.
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Groovy Vegan VINE VOICE on May 12, 2006
Format: Hardcover
According to the "Who Moved My Cheese" myth and popular American groupthink, if you become involuntarily separated from your job, there's something kind of wrong with you, or at least your portfolio of skills and/or attitude. You're supposed to buck up, improve your education and attitude, bust your butt looking for a job, and by golly there will be one for you, at approximately your old salary if not a higher wage. This is one of three major myths journalist Louis Uchitelle does a spectacular job debunking through via in depth interviews with laid off workers, CEOs,headhunters and others; labor statistics, and an investigation into the history of the American work force, unions and labor laws.

The other two major myths are:

1. "Payoff" That in exchange for the approximately 30 million full-time workers who lost their jobs since the early 1980s, "a revitalized corporate America will emerge, once again offering job security, full employment, and rising incomes."

2. The dollar and cents savings in labor costs justifies the layoffs.

Rather than recapping Uchitelle's arguments, I refer you to the book which commendably argues all these points, and brings to life the employment situations of blue collar and white collar workers from all walks of life. One chapter that epitomizes our economy is chapter 3, "Retraining the Mechanics -- But for What?" Here we meet a conference room full of United Airlines mechanics, mostly family men in their 30s and 40s, typically making at least $25 an hour who are about to be laid off. They're cheerfully given post-layoff survival instructions including how to deal with creditors, collect unemployment, and retrain for other jobs.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Zinner on April 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The Disposable American is passionately written and and a must read. Uchitelle skillfully debunks a long-cherished American belief that if you work hard, and are educated, you will have job security and/or ease in finding comparable work with another company. The Disposable American addresses the economic challenges layoffs cause for the middle class just as Ehrenreich's book, Nickel and Dimed, addressed those trying to survive in this country while working at minimum wage. Uchitelle makes his points about layoffs by getting close to his subjects and empathically describing their challenges.

The book addresses the negative impact that layoffs have on the financial and psychological structure of the family. This vulnerability adversely affects the community, and increasingly , the economic security of the middle class throughout this country.

Highly recommended!
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Format: Hardcover
New York Times economics reporter Louis Uchitelle has written a vital, sometimes quite emotional book about the polarizing topic of layoffs. While corporate leaders have concluded layoffs to be acceptable business behavior as a means toward increasing the bottom line, the rationale behind such decisions comes into question, and Uchitelle provides a most compelling case against taking such drastic measures. He accurately views layoffs as the consequence of companies intent on nonstop expansion. A longer-term solution against a down market is not even considered, and the author provides substantive data to prove that cuts in staffing do not lead to better stock performance. In fact, what receives much of the author's well justified ire is the myopic aspect of CEOs intent on building the perception that they are proactively responding to business performance. Employees are treated as short-term commodities, while many CEOs not only continue to pad their own compensation packages but also ignore huge non-staff costs that are comparatively more difficult to implement.

Uchitelle focuses on the area that companies refuse to take accountability, specifically the psychological fallout on employees once they no longer are employees and the broader effect on society as a whole. What I like about his approach is that it is not simply theoretical rhetoric that he espouses but empirical evidence that he presents, both historical and contemporary. In particular, Uchitelle focuses on several corporations in Cincinnati, Indianapolis and New Britain, Conn., interviewing the executives who opted for layoffs while continuing to live in luxury and researching the laid-off workers. What he finds out is that there simply aren't enough well-paying jobs with decent benefits to meet demand.
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