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Blog, Bucknell, Class, Readings, White Paper

Profit at the Bottom of the Ladder


For my white paper, I plan to focus on poverty in America with a specific lens on the working poor. Through examining statistics about the working poor and poverty in America in general, I hope to get a better understanding of what causes poverty. I want to examine the socioeconomic, demographic, and educational components that together are consistent among individuals who comprise the working poor. While I don’t necessarily expect to fully explain what causes poverty, I hope to gain a better understanding of the wide variety of factors which come into play.

This week we were asked to take a trip to the library to identify sources which would help us in our research for the White Paper. I found a book that was particular helpful with regards to my focus on the working poor.  Profit at the Bottom of the Ladder by Jody Heymann is a book which discusses the stories of businesses which have taken and alternative approach to business and employee treatment. Heymann examines twelve companies from nine countries with workforces which range from as small as 27 to over 100,000. These businesses are very different from one another and serve a diverse range of customers. Despite the significant differences between the businesses, each company has proven to do well financially, successfully implement a strategy that places emphasis on high quality working conditions for low-level employees, and has developed a wide range of other employee centered policies which have made them desirable places to work. Their financial successes have balanced the needs of various parties including owners, shareholders, and all employees of the firm. Some of the firms included are Costco, American Apparel, and Xerox.

Heymann thoroughly examines each example and makes the clear argument that it is beneficial for companies to invest in all employees at all levels. She also draws clear links to data to prove that this practice can be profitable for the companies, despite the investment. She utilizes specific references to prove that the rewards gained from the additional workforce investment outweigh the costs.  The section of the book which I read discussed the companies of American Apparel and Jenkins Brick. In this chapter, the values of incentive policies and appealing salary scales were noted. The explicit link between these types of policies and increases in employee motivation and productivity are made. Furthermore, the heightened lower-level salaries results in recruitment of the most dependable employees. This section of the book also described the case studies of Autoliv Australia and Isola. In these examples, policies involving flexible scheduling of time off and extended leave created a greater sense of loyalty amongst employees along with increased job satisfaction. Both companies determined that more generous policies surrounding sick leave and time to care for family was very important to their respective staffs. After the policies were implemented, the companies experienced lower turnover rates, fewer missed days of work, lower costs, and wrongful use of sick days. The conclusion was that such policies lead to greater employee loyalty and connection to the firm.

Now, you might be wondering how this book applies to my topic of poverty amongst the working poor. This topic is largely “Society” focused. In order to bring in “Government” and “Business” into the picture, I need to offer valuable suggestions to policy makers at the federal level in addition to upper level executives in business. This book directly addresses the “Business” piece. It offers effective solutions to companies which will result in more productivity. Meanwhile, the policies mentioned lead to a better quality of life for ALL employees, even those at the “bottom of the ladder.” Many of those individuals comprise the working poor in America. All in all it was a successful trip to the library!

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About JOEY MARTIN

I am a Senior Management major at Bucknell University. I am currently living in Orlando, FL but moved around a lot as a child as an Army Brat. I am looking to go into Finance following graduation. If that doesn't work out, I am considering moving to Washington D.C. and doing political work for a period of time.

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