Dirty Work: Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America

Eyal Press. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-0-374-14018-2
New Yorker contributor Press (Absolute Convictions) investigates in this engrossing and frequently enraging survey the conditions of Americans who perform essential jobs that are “morally compromised” and “hidden from view.” Contending that “the dirty work in America is not randomly distributed, [but] falls disproportionately to people with fewer choices and opportunities,” Press interviews prison guards, military drone operators, oil rig workers, and slaughterhouse employees. In each case, he finds that the desire for lower “costs”—cheaper consumer prices, fewer American casualties in never-ending foreign wars, less government spending—has led to the exploitation of workers. And yet, Press argues, whenever abuses have been exposed, such as the crowded, unsanitary conditions that led to the rampant spread of Covid-19 among slaughterhouse workers, Americans have preferred to believe that “the key moral failures rested with a few reckless individuals... rather than with the exploitative system in which they worked.” Press’s lucid narrative is studded with gut-wrenching scenes, including a congressional hearing about the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in which politicians expressed more concern about the disaster’s impact on native bird populations than the deaths of 11 oil workers. This deeply reported and eloquently argued account is a must-read. Agent: Rebecca Nagel, the Wylie Agency. (Aug.)
Reviewed on : 05/03/2021
Release date: 08/17/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
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