Conference at the University of Leicester: ‘Making the Precariat’

Making the ‘Precariat’: Unemployment, Insecurity and Work-Poor Young Adults in Harsh Economic Conditions

In the UK, as well as in other parts of Europe, levels of unemployment among young people are disturbing. Youth unemployment is higher now than at any time since the 1980s recession (ONS, 2012), affecting over a million 16-24 year-olds with significantly higher rates among vulnerable populations such as early school-leavers.

In many ways the situation is not new: in the 1980s (and in earlier recessions) youth unemployment (which is always two to three times higher than all-age unemployment) was a major cause of concern, leading to talk about a ‘lost generation’ and discussion about the extent to which the experience of unemployment leaves ‘scars’ that impact on later employment careers. At the same time, a large body of research into the lives of young people leads us to suspect that situations have changed to such an extent that research carried out in the past may be a poor guide to contemporary conditions.

Whereas earlier approaches to the study of difficulties encountered in the transitions from education to work had focused on the experience of unemployment, especially long-term unemployment, the greater complexity of transitions calls for a new approach and suggests the need for fresh understandings of vulnerability in the context of early careers. Moreover, rather than casting aside valuable knowledge produced in earlier periods, we believe that valuable lessons can be learnt through re-analysing older data through a contemporary conceptual lens.

This one day conference will begin to address some of these issues by focusing on the 1980s, using historic datasets, and the present day, using contemporary data from Understanding Societies, in order to enhance our understanding of unemployment, insecurity and work-poor young adults in harsh economic conditions.

This a free one day conference. There are limited places. To book your place follow the link.http://www2.le.ac.uk/conference/precariat 

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A Gun, a widow and thinking in ‘the field’!

by Sarah Hadfield

Twitter Signature logo@Sarah_h5

photo-3 This blog post is inspired by some reflexivity of some field research I conducted for another research project early on in my research career. This research was on a topic aligned with ‘The making of the precariat’, but the research methods are superficially different. My research is qualitative; ‘The making of the precariat’ is quantitative, making use of 1980s historical questionnaire data. From my own qualitative data collection experiences, I have found that ethical issues and the realities of field research in both projects have similarities although conducted in different times for different purposes.

As presented in the literature, the process of data collection, ethical issues and what is needed for preparation is not too far removed from the reality. However, for myself, what was, was the reality of the anxieties that came after the interviews had ended. This is because seemingly simple questions can trigger in the respondent seemingly unrelated information that is important for the respondent to talk about.  In reality the sensitivity of the subject matter determined by the respondent.  On returning from ‘the field’ I spoke with a colleague about this juxtaposition between what I was prepared for and how I had not expected to  feel after the process of collecting data had reached completion. On lending me the book ‘Method in the Madness: Research stories you won’t read in textbooks’,  I too realised I was not the only one and sometimes as researchers we are placed in situations we cannot anticipate. I do think to some extent that my experiences of being in the field might have been due my position as an ‘early careers’ researcher, however, I was very prepared for data collection, ethics, health and safety and personal safety. Furthermore, I was pleased with my navigation through any these situation were ‘extra’ information was divulged by respondents and managed to steer the interviews to keep them relevant to the topic. I did not expect to be thinking about the respondents after data collection had finished.

It could be assumed that qualitative research demands more human interaction and investment then quantitative questionnaires. However, from first hand experience of managing the historical 1980s questionnaire data and on observations of the comments and observations made by the field researchers at the time, this is not so. In ‘additional comments and observations’ the field researchers have reported on difficulties and the reality of research. Documented in the original report, a field research conducted an interview with a respondent whose Father answered the door with an air gun. The Father, not trusting that the field researcher was who he said he was, phoned the university.  Ironically in this situation you would not expect the questionnaire to have data in it. The schedule was completed like any other. In reality the field researcher might have had to go through the thought process of the pros and cons of continuing with the data collection; would running away prove guilt and further repercussions?

Further, from another questionnaire the field researcher had written a note ‘Respondent was very pregnant, recently widowed and hostile – so

1.     I didn’t pursue her for details of Job 1 – a fill in hairdresser job that she felt was irrelevant to her careers.

2.     Ask her for her deceased husbands occupation as it seemed poor taste’

The field researchers relationship with the respondent and judgment of the situation influenced the data even though it is ‘quantitative’ and a ‘questionnaire’. Both of which as methods are promoted as being further removed and ‘scientific’ then qualitative research.

We know these detail of the 1980s data collection process as we have the original questionnaires. To this day, it can be observed that in an increasingly digitalised world, the use of computers are amplified for data collection. Stories like these might not be recorded in questionnaire data. It is worth sharing what information we do have about the reality of field research in both methods, and to also be able to promote and talk further about the realities of social research. After all regardless of findings this is what makes we do so much more interesting.

Reference

Townsend, K. and Burgess, J. (2009) ‘Method in the Madness: Research you won’t read in textbooks‘. Chandos Publishing: Oxford. 

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Young people and work futures: Zero Hours, total insecurity.

by Professor Andy Furlong, University of Glasgow.

Light in tunnel

In the last few weeks there has been a lot of press coverage of young people and work. There has been a shift of emphasis from discussions of NEET and youth unemployment to a focus on working conditions: in particular, the insecurity created through the use of zero hours contracts, under which an employee agrees to to be available for work as required while the employer offers no guarantee of the number of hours they will offer (which may be zero).

Whereas less than 200,000 people were once thought to hold zero hours contracts, estimates now exceed a million. Firms like Sports Direct and McDonalds, both large employers of young people, retain more than 9 in 10 on zero hours contracts. Young people who work under these conditions are frequently unable to plan their lives from one week to the next and, with unpredictable wages, face the pressure of constant financial insecurity. To make matters worse, it is not uncommon for employers to use contracts that prevent their zero hours workers from working additional hours inother firms (even when they themselves are not providing any work).

Clearly firms benefit hugely from these arrangements, whereas under current conditions of high unemployment employees are at their mercy. One employer, writing in the Huffington Post, argued that zero hours contracts were ‘creating a positive tension in the workforce’. She went on to add that ‘zero hours contracts create an innate sense of competition that makes people hungry for work’ and that ‘zero hours contracts reduces employment provisions; notice periods and unfair dismissal can be avoided. Wages are driven down, pension and sickness benefits are limited’.

The Business Secretary expressed concern that there was ‘some exploitation’, but added that ‘it can work for the worker as well as the employer’, while the Unions would like to zero hours contracts outlawed.

Discussion around the issue of zero hours contracts and other forms of non-standard employment often makes reference to the fragile state of the economy, suggesting that employers need flexibility if they are to be able to help create growth. There has been a tendency to present the issue as temporary and as linked to the recession. In reality, the increase in precarious forms of work is a trend that long-predated the recession: it represents a new reality rather than a temporary episode.

McDonalds have been using zero hours contracts since the 1970s and we can trace their growth back to well before the current recession. Recent work by the economists David Bell and David Blanchflower (2011) has shown that underemployment is rife – far more people are underemployed than unemployed (they estimate that while the unemployment rate among 16-24 year-olds is 21%, a further 30% would like to work more hours than they actually work).

The fear is that now employers have realised how non-standard employment contracts increase their flexibility and profitability, they are not going to give them up. Why would they unless forced to do so through legislation?

Under such conditions the outlook for young people (as young people today and as adults in the future) is that the future looks bleak. Life beyond the recession will not be characterised by a golden age of new prosperity, but by insecurity and poverty. One only has to look at the state of the Japanese labour market two decades on from its last major recession: in contemporary Japan unemployment is relatively low, but around one in two young people participate in casual and insecure forms of employment.

twitter-bird-blue-on-white @Andy_furlong       @ukyouthresearch

References and further readings:

BBC News, ‘Cable warns of exploitation of zero-hour contracts’. 5 August 2013.

Bell, D. N. and Blanchflower, D. G. (2013) How to measure underemployment, Working paper 13-7, Pearson Institute for International Economics, Washington.
Furlong, A. Inui, A. Nishimuran, T. and ,Kojima Y. (2012) ‘Accounting for the early labour market destinations of 19/20 year-olds in England and Wales and Japan’, Journal of Youth Studies, 15 (1) pp.1-15.

Furlong A. (2008) ‘The Japanese hikikomori phenomenon: acute social withdrawal among young people’, The Sociological Review, 56 (2).

The Guardian. Neville, S. ‘Pressure mounts on Sports Direct over zero-hours contracts’. 29 July 2013.

The Guardian. Neville, S. ‘McDonald’s ties nine out of 10 workers to zero-hours contracts’. 5 August 2013.

The Huffington Post, Katie Hopkins, ‘Zero Hours Contract’.  5 August 2013.

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ESRC Secondary Data Analysis Initiative Event

This poster was created for the ESRC Secondary Data Analysis Initiative Event in London earlier this month (#SDAI).
The poster features our projects key objectives, research design and the data we are using. The headlines at the top of the poster represent part of the media discourse on this subject. These headlines are from the 1980s but could equally be from now.

The event provided an opportunity to hear about other projects that are also funded by the ESRC SDAI.

For more information on our project, see our project pages.

@ukyouthresearch

@ESRC

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‘Governments leaving the youth on the shelf’: Why The Specials have direct relevance today.

The SepcialsThe SepcialsThe Sepcials

The Specials: Return to 1981

by Dr John Goodwin

This town, is coming like a ghost town
Why must the youth fight against themselves?
Government leaving the youth on the shelf
This place, is coming like a ghost town
No job to be found in this country
Can’t go on no more
The people getting angry

(Ghost Town, The Specials, 1981).

The intersection of personal pastimes and professional interests collided on the 19th May 2013 when I went to see The Specials at De Montfort Hall in Leicester. A lifelong fan of The Specials, mainly thanks to my sister and brother in-law for forcing me to listen to them  – and many other of the Ska revival bands of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Yet The Specials are not just another 2-tone band – they are the 2-tone band of both the 1980s and of now. Very few other bands have lyrics that capture the hopelessness, frustration and anger of what it was like to be young in the early 1980s.  Nor do any other band come close to The Specials for lyrics that have a direct relevance today in the 2010s. A rare feat for a band formed in Coventry in 1977.  It is as if their reforming in 2009, after years of band disputes, was a prophecy of what was to come for young people now. A fact not lost on The Specials themselves, as Staple (2009) wrote ‘…there are now solid reasons for us to bring our sound and message back. In Britain, and the world, the good times have come to an end. An economic boom and easy credit have all dried up. It’s as if we’ve all got into a time machine and gone back to the bad old days – sky high unemployment, kids with nothing to do’ (Staple 2009: 318). The ravages of deindustrialisation, the rise of the precariat, the massive increase in youth unemployment and the return of violent disorder to British streets links contemporary youth with the lyrics of Ghost Town. Staple (2009) again – ‘There are songs that capture the mood of a people at a certain point. Like a photo snapshot. Ghost Town did that brilliantly’ (Staple 2009: 217). A lineage of despair – well almost. What was also strikingly positive at The Specials gigs is the return of the ‘rude boy’ a distinctive ant-racist youth culture defined culturally by 2-tone (black, white and Asian together) and a distinctive fashion of Dr Marten’s boots (cherry red a preference), Harrington jackets, Fred Perry (t-shirts and dresses) or Ben Sherman shirts, thin red braces and so forth. Maybe a response of some youth to this recession is to hark back to a different time and seek solace in the experiences of earlier youth and a youth culture of those who have gone before.  As for the gig, Jeremy Clay’s (2013) review captures it perfectly:

The hall reverberates with cries of “ruuuuuuude boys”. This, it’s clear, is going to be a night like no other. The Specials rush the stage like a pitch invasion, and launch into rabble-rousing openers Concrete Jungle and Do The Dog, with its roll call of lost tribes: punks, teds, mods, rockers and skinheads …But any lingering fears this is an empty nostalgia trip – a late Seventies take on those golden-oldies Sixties shows – are immediately dispelled. The Specials sound urgent and fresh. Relevant, even. (Clay 2013)

References and Further Reading:

Augustyn, H. (2010) Ska: An Oral History. McFarland and Company: North California.

Black, P. (2011) Black By Design: A 2-Tone Memoir. Serpent’s Tail: London.

Clay, J. (2013) Review of the Specials at De Monfort Hall. http://www.thisisleicestershire.co.uk/REVIEW-Specials-Montfort-Hall/story-19035517-detail/story.html#ixzz2TxGn3VxE (accessed 21/5/2013)

Knight, N. (1982) Skinhead. Omnibus Press: London.

Staple, N., with McMahon, T. (2009) Original Rude Boy: From Borstal to The Specials, A Life in Crime and Music. Aurum: London.

Thompson, D. (2011) Wheels Out Of Gear: 2 Tone, The Specials and A World In Flame. Soundcheck Books: London.

Williams, P. (2010) You’re Wondering Now: The Specials from Conception to Reunion, Cherry Red Books: London.

Image (c) John Goodwin 2013

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Digitalising Historical Data for Re-use

by Sarah Hadfield

Scan photo-17 Scan 2 Scan photo-17

(c) UK Youth Research. Images not for reproduction.

The purpose of this blog post is to give you an insight into the process of preparing historical data for re-use, issues that were unique to my experience and practicalities that are important to consider when returning to historical data in general. Yesterdays blog demonstrated the richnesses and potential of re-using data and also showed a section of the data from the 1980s.

The data that is directly referred to and the purpose of its preparation is for the research project ‘The making of the precariat’. You can read more about the historical data and project on our webpages.

The most frequent issues that arose in the preparation process, were ensuring methodological precision and clarity of content.

In preparing the data for re-use, it was important to ensure precision and consistency in the preparation process. There were practicalities such as decoding content (without a code book), words written in short hand and different terminology that needed to be understood. Although only in the 1980s, this is enough time for a change in the terminology used or how jobs types might be categorised or understood. For example, data recorded using the code ‘F1’ means first ‘fill-in job’. Today we are more likely to categorise this as a ‘temporary’ job. However, the definition of ‘fill-in’ and ‘temporary’ in one of the original datasets was understood as different type of job categories.

Further, how the respondent felt about their employment position in one case was influenced how s/he wanted the data to be recorded. While in school this respondent had a Saturday job, after leaving school the same respondent worked with the same employer for almost six months but wanted this job to be recorded as a temporary job, the notes written by the field researcher read:

“Job 1 got after working on Saturdays, respondent did not feel it was relevant to career development – felt it was a fill in job”.

This respondent went from hairdressing to working in a hospital as an auxiliary nurse. The respondent is suggesting that their first ‘real’ job is to be identified and classified through their career aim, rather then the reality of their employment history.

The underlying motivation to preserve historical data is for its re-use. It is important that the database transcription process does not limit its potential for re-use. Therefore clarity of handwriting is not and should not be regarded as insignificant. Not only does clarity of written content influences the detail of future analysis but the likelihood of returning to the paper based questionnaires, once digitalised is unlikely. The extent to which handwriting is understood can determine the detail of analysis.  An example of this was learning that that some of the young adults worked as auxiliary nurses. ‘Auxiliary’ came in various formats and spellings, including the short hand ‘aux’. Today, this might be better understood as health care assistant.

Once these creases are ironed out the re-analysis of data gives us the ability re-use data with new perspective and to review contextual issues to explore new issues within the youth transitions debate.

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Left school, unemployed, first job, second job, third job, government training scheme, unemployed again, fourth job, unemployed for a third time, job five, unemployed again: 1983 Young Adult.

This post shows a section from one of the 1980s datasets that has now been digitalised for re-use. With the main body of the questionnaire, as part of the interview, the researcher and respondent recorded the respondent’s employment history. These sheets are called History Component Sheets. On the History Component Sheet the researcher recorded the labour market history from leaving school and information that was believed to be relevant to the respondent’s labour market history. The dates range from 1975 – 1983. The information recorded includes jobs, periods of unemployment, education, participation in government training schemes and life events such as getting married, leaving home or having children. This young person had already had a turbulent work history, moving in and out of training and employment in the engineering industry on leaving school and, at the time of the interview had been unemployed for three years.  Some of the information is written in code or short hand and this presents a set of challenges when digitalising historical data which will be highlighted in the next blog.

 Scan 2

(c) UK Youth Research. Images not for reproduction.

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