Status decline and welfare competition worries from an automating world of work : the implications of automation risk on support for benefit conditionality policies and party choice

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Title: Status decline and welfare competition worries from an automating world of work : the implications of automation risk on support for benefit conditionality policies and party choice
Author: Zhen Jie, Im
Contributor organization: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Social Sciences
Doctoral Programme in Social Sciences
Helsingin yliopisto, valtiotieteellinen tiedekunta
Sosiaalitieteiden tohtoriohjelma
Helsingfors universitet, statsvetenskapliga fakulteten
Doktorandprogrammet i socialvetenskap
Publisher: Helsingin yliopisto
Date: 2021-04-30
Language: eng
Belongs to series: Publications of the Faculty of Social Sciences - URN:ISSN:2343-2748
Thesis level: Doctoral dissertation (article-based)
Abstract: In West European economies, there is growing concern about the extent to which workplace automation affects employment patterns, and thus the level of risk which workers may face from such labour market disruption. There are also worries that elevated automation risk may generate substantial political fallout, namely automation-driven grievances that feedback into the political process. In this regard, I ask: how does automation risk affect individual workers’ support for social policies and party choice? I focus particularly on its impact on workers’ support for benefit conditionality policies and radical right parties. I argue that the impact of automation risk on these two political outcomes may be traced to automation-vulnerable workers’ fear of status decline and concern about welfare competition. These worries may emanate from workers’ elevated automation risk, even if they do not actually become unemployed from automation. Benefit conditionality policies, which are increasingly prevalent, apply stringent obligations like accepting available albeit worse jobs, and sanctions like unemployment benefit cuts to pressure unemployed workers into reemployment. Automation-vulnerable workers may reject benefit conditionality because its stringent obligations and sanctions may exacerbate their economic vulnerabilities. However, they may yet support benefit conditionality if they consider their worries about status decline and welfare competition to be more salient than their worries about the economic costs of benefit conditionality. These worries may have electoral implications. If automation-vulnerable workers worry about status decline and welfare competition and support benefit conditionality, they may prefer parties that support such policies, like radical right parties whose appeals speak to these concerns. This study investigates these political implications of automation risk in West European countries by exploiting cross-national individual-level surveys from the European Social Survey. I find that automation-vulnerable workers support benefit conditionality policies that obligate unemployed workers to accept worse jobs, namely lower wage or educationally mismatched jobs. This finding may indicate that these workers find welfare competition and status decline worries more salient than potential economic costs which they may suffer from benefit conditionality. These worries may also explain their preference for radical right parties over other party families. These findings show that risk is an important determinant of support for benefit conditionality policies, and its impact should be disentangled from that of current employment status. However, and through the case of automation, I demonstrate that risk may manifest different worries and threats, even non-economic ones, which may likewise affect benefit conditionality support. I also echo recent studies which show that automation-vulnerable workers’ support for radical right parties may be traced to their status worries, but I add that their concerns about welfare competition and support for benefit conditionality may also be relevant explanations.How do individual workers respond to the threat of workplace automation in Western Europe today? This dissertation explores this issue in terms of workers’ support for welfare policies and voting behaviour. With regards to welfare policies, the dissertation looks at whether workers whose jobs are threatened by automation support stringent obligations and conditions being attached to receiving unemployment benefits. These conditions may include accepting jobs which pay lower wages or require lower education. At the same time, the dissertation also examines whether such workers prefer specific parties. Overall, this dissertation argues that the political responses of automation-threatened workers may depend on whether they feel more insecure about their economic or status prospects. It provides descriptive evidence showing that when workers whose jobs are threatened by automation fear a decline in their social status, they support stringent obligations being attached to unemployment benefit recipiency and prefer radical right parties.
Subject: sociology
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