About this Research Topic
Designing policies to minimize the short- and long-run social risks of unstable work arrangements
The accelerated pace of technological innovation and frequent business reorganization processes are inducing a greater instability of work careers, giving rise to new outsiders in the labor market. As a result, employment growth has led to an increase in inequalities in recent decades. Low skilled workers, women and young people in the entry phase are the most affected by these changes. These groups are confronted with emerging social risks related to the interaction between unstable employment and income, caring activities entailed in the initial stages of family formation or in the presence of non-autonomous elderly parents. Moreover, precarious employment induces long-term risks and losses such as lack of income during prolonged periods of unemployment or economic security at the age of retirement.
The demographic transition alongside the coupling of falling birthrates with rising life expectancy has led to a significant ageing of society nearly everywhere, especially in Europe. These trends pose new challenges. They include the need to find sustainable financing for social security – a sustainable balance between contributions and benefits - and to adapt welfare policies to the structural changes in the family. The increasing proportion of older persons and the decreasing proportion of the working-age population put both pensions and public care system under strain.
The spreading awareness that the goal of female economic activation cannot be accomplished without a radical reorganization of family life – together with the formal role of advancing gender equality – has made of the reconciliation of work and family life a crucial step towards removing any disincentive to female labor force participation. The country specific answers given to these challenges depend on a complex set of variables, ranging from market structure and the gender relation system to family policies and national welfare architectures.
Welfare interventions adopted to minimize these risks have proven largely inadequate in their redistributive effects with only a minor influence in the reduction of inequalities and the growing disparity between work-poor and work-rich households. In some cases, the divarication has increased. Activation policies, for example, especially when implemented as workfare programs, have induced the spread of low paid jobs.
The actual relevance of these ‘failures’ notwithstanding, welfare policies continue to play a fundamental role in countering new social risks, with some policy areas playing a prominent role: work and life balance policies, education and training policies, labor market policies, pension policies, employment services and income protection for the unemployed and the so-called NEETs (typically younger age groups who are not in employment, education or training). Finally, it seems necessary to identify effective forms of public-private integration, considering the growing difficulties on the part of the public sector to ensure social protection with respect to growing needs.
This Research Topic aims to focus on the interdependence between increasing disparities and policy interventions in the fields of work-life balance policies, education and training, labor market policies and pension policies. In order to address these complex issues it seems appropriate first to define the specific risks associated to work instability for exposed groups such as low skilled, women and young people. It is worth considering that various forms of social stratification, such as class, age, gender, do not exist separately from each other, but are interwoven together. Crucial issues to be addressed might be: how to combat the growth of inequalities? What are the consequences of the growing instability of work career for some groups of the active population with particular reference to the low skilled, women and young people? What are the most appropriate policies? Basing on the specific nature of the observed damages it would become possible to design appropriate policy interventions. Contextual scrutiny of the existing best practices at national or subnational levels would be required.
With this Research Topic in mind, we intend to initiate a joint platform for scientific publication of research papers, case study reports, reviews and opinions. We therefore welcome different types of papers on the topic, including empirical studies, review papers, theoretical contributions, and opinion articles.
Keywords: Work-life balance, welfare, labor market policies, social security, inequalities, policy intervention
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