Too Many Cooks?

Research Report

Too Many Cooks?

Changing Wages and Job Ladders in the Food Industry

Abstract

Corporate restructuring of the past decade has changed the fate of lower-skilled workers, but the exact nature of that fatewhether loss of long-term employment or of job laddersis widely debated. Case studies and analysis of employment and industry data on jobs in the food industry, as part of a four-industry study (retail, finance, electronics manufacturing), find that industry consolidation and the shift of food preparation work out of food service providers (restaurants, and cafeterias in schools and businesses) to suppliersin particular manufacturersmay create higher-quality jobs and more extensive job ladders. However, these improved jobs have lifted many opportunities beyond the reach of many lower-skilled workers in the industry. The findings suggest an explanation for the puzzle about why the media report individual firms downsizing while aggregate data exhibit no change in average job tenure and related measures: processes that dismantle job ladders in one set of businesses may create new jobs and opportunities elsewhere, averaging out to little change overall.

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