Panel Paper: Which Port In the Storm? Public, Nonprofit and for-Profit Sector Employment Opportunity for Lower-Educated Workers

Thursday, November 8, 2012 : 10:55 AM
Baltimore Theatre (Radisson Plaza Lord Baltimore Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Anna Haley-Lock, University of Wisconsin, Madison and Danielle Berman, University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Sociology

The public and nonprofit sectors have come to be seen as providing employment opportunity with unique appeal and accessibility for certain groups of vulnerable workers, including women, persons of color, and parents (Blank, 1985; Dolcos & Daley, 2009; Gonyea, 1999; Saltzstein, Ting & Saltzstein, 2001; Schmitt, 2010). In this paper, we consider whether the public and nonprofit sectors constitute a similarly promising source of high quality employment for another set of comparatively vulnerable workers, those without a college degree, at a time when the compensation of jobs frequently occupied by workers with lower educational attainment are worsening (Autor, 2011; Holzer & LaLonde, 2000; Kalleberg, 2009). Further, many workers advance out of low-wage jobs – and acquire advanced education – only with difficulty, often finding themselves stuck in low-wage “careers” (Andersson, Holzer & Lane, 2003; Boushey, 2005; Holzer, 2008).  The success of American welfare policy, said to be rooted in employment that “lead(s) to a living wage and economic self-sufficiency,” thus arguably rests on the quality of jobs that can be attained by lower-educated workers (Johnson & Corcoran, 2003, 615). 

We utilize nationally representative data on American workers collected by the 2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce to examine lower-educated individuals’ access to quality jobs conceptualized along three dimensions:  providing a bundle of three core fringe benefits (family health insurance, a retirement plan, and paid vacation); full-time hours; and scheduling flexibility within the context of full-time hours.  The results of descriptive and logistic regression analyses suggest that lower-educated employees in the public and nonprofit sectors have unique access to high quality employment opportunity relative to their counterparts in for-profit firms, consistent with the reputation of public and nonprofit jobs for providing opportunity to other marginalized groups of workers.  More novel perhaps is the significant and positive effect found for lower-educated public (and nonprofit) employees’ access to schedule flexibility, an aspect of job quality for which the public sector is not particularly well known; and lower-educated nonprofit (as well as public) workers’ access to fringe benefits, a reward with which nonprofit agencies are less commonly associated.  Our results additionally reveal that access to full-time hours is related to personal attributes – with males and those with more work experience more likely to be full-time – and not sector of employment.  

The findings have several implications for public policy research and practice. To the extent that lower-educated individuals can more readily access high quality jobs in the public and nonprofit sectors, policy initiatives to promote work may be best targeted there.  Yet this strategy is challenged by two continuing trends affecting the status of public and to some extent nonprofit sector employment: the expanding privatization of public services and debate about the taxpayer burden entailed by public employee compensation and unionism (Bernhardt & Dresser, 2002; Capulong, 2005-6; Edwards, 2010; Keefe, 2011; Lewin, et al, 2011; Schmitt, 2010).  The paper concludes with a discussion of the findings, and future policy directions, in the context of these political and organizational realities.