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Work Won't Love You Back

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Work Won't Love You Back

How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Alone

Bold Type,

15 min read
7 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

The modern economy masks its exploitative nature by framing contingent, ill-paid work as a “labor of love.”

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Journalist Sarah Jaffe argues that the modern ideal of loving your job is a neoliberal myth that re-brands the gig economy, and other tenuous or ill-paid labor, as the means to a more authentic life. The new paradigm, in which employers insist that workers should love their jobs – even as those jobs become less stable, prestigious and remunerative – perpetuates exploitation across the labor market. Jaffe uses theory, historical research and case studies to unmask that exploitation, calling for solidarity across the new working class.


The “labor of love” myth is neoliberalism’s mask for exploitation.

Under capitalism, all wage labor is exploitative, since the laborer’s work produces more value than his or her employer pays. The Protestant work ethic, which laid the groundwork for capitalism, shifted, in the 19th century. Under the new “industrial ethic,” employers promised workers material comforts in exchange for their work. Bolstered by the welfare state, this paradigm peaked in the postwar period, in what some historians refer to as the Fordist compromise – named for the Ford Motor Company. Ford and other companies offered workers a livable family wage, health insurance and a pension.

But after the 1970s, neoliberalism replaced the Fordist paradigm. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher championed the free market, dismantling organized labor and the welfare state. Companies slashed labor costs through automation or by outsourcing labor to low-wage countries. As service jobs eclipsed manufacturing jobs, employment became more contingent and less remunerative.

Today, companies and mass media re-cast the insecurity, longer hours and lower pay of the gig ...

About the Author

Type Media Center fellow Sarah Jaffe also wrote Necessary Trouble: Americans in Revolt, and cohosts Dissent magazine’s Belabored podcast. 

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