Louis Uchitelle worked as a reporter, foreign correspondent, and as the editor of the business news department at The Associated Press before joining The New York Times in 1980. He has been writing about business, labor, and economics for the Times since 1987. He was the lead reporter for the Times series, “The Downsizing of America,” which won a Polk award in 1996. He has taught at Columbia University and was a visiting scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation in New York in 2002-2003.
Uchitelle’s book The Disposable American, published by Knopf, will be released in March 2006. The book is an eye-opening account of layoffs in America – their questionable necessity, their overuse, and their devastating impact on individuals at all income levels. In a compelling narrative, the author traces the rise of job security in the United States to its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s and then the panicky u-turn. He describes the unraveling through the experiences of both executives and workers: three CEOs who ran the Stanley Works, the tool manufacturer, from 1968 through 2003, gradually becoming more willing to engage in layoffs; highly-skilled aircraft mechanics in Indianapolis discarded as United Airlines shut down a state-of-the-art maintenance facility, damaging the city as well as the workers; a human resources director at Citigroup, declared non-essential despite excellent performance; a banker in Connecticut lucky to find a lower- paying job in a state tourist office; an executive at a publishing company who took early retirement to avoid a layoff and then, unwilling to accept that he had been thrown away, tried to make his retirement activities mimic a job.
Uchitelle makes clear the ways in which layoffs are counterproductive, rarely promoting efficiency or profitability in the long term. He explains how our acquiescence encourages wasteful mergers, outsourcing, the shifting of production abroad, the loss of union protection, and wage stagnation. He argues against our ongoing public policy – inaugurated by Ronald Reagan and embraced by every president since – of subsidizing retraining for jobs that, in fact, do not exist. He breaks new ground in documenting the failure of these policies and in describing the significant psychiatric damage that the trauma of a layoff invariably inflicts, even on those soon re-employed. It is damage that, multiplied over millions of layoffs, is silently undermining the nation’s mental health.
While recognizing that in today’s global economy some layoffs must occur, the author passionately argues that government must step in with policies that encourage companies to restrict layoffs and must generate jobs to supplement the present shortfall. There are specific recommendations for achieving these goals and persuasive arguments that workers, business, and the nation will benefit as a result.