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When we talk about the “gloves-off economy,” we are identifying a set of employer strategies and practices that either evade or outright violate the core laws and standards that govern job quality in the U.S. While such strategies have long been present in certain sectors, such as sweatshops and marginal small businesses, we argue that they are spreading. This trend, driven by competitive pressures, has been shaped by an environment where other major economic actors—government, unions, and civil society—have either promoted deregulation or been unable to contain gloves-off business strategies. The result, at the start of the 21st century, is the reality that a major segment of the U.S. labor market increasingly diverges from the legal and normative bounds put into place decades ago.


Center for Social Policy Working Paper #2009-4.

This paper is based on the Introduction to The Gloves-Off Economy: Workplace Standards at the Bottom of America’s Labor Market (Cornell University Press, 2008), edited by the same group of authors. For correspondence, please contact

The authors are grateful for support from the Ford Foundation for this paper. The views expressed in the paper are those of the authors only and not those of the Foundation.



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