Cornell University

January 11 2012

Staying the Path

Helping world's poorest workers drives research, new book by Fields

As a graduate student 40 years ago, Gary Fields started down a path that continues today: "Help the poorest workers in the world improve their earning opportunities and, hence, their standards of living."

In his new book, "Working Hard, Working Poor: A Global Journey," Fields writes about living with families in South Africa, China, Kenya, Mexico and other countries.

The research informs his international labor policy research – Fields is ILR's John P. Windmuller Chair of International and Comparative Labor and a labor economics professor.

It reaps endorsements of Nobel Prize winners Joseph Stiglitz and George Akerlof.

It puts him face to face with people such as Kalavati, one of the globe’s three billion working poor.

Her hourly earnings from rolling bidis, a type of cigarette, are less than seven U.S. cents.

Fields and an academic colleague lived in India with Kalavati and the extended family she supports.

Eloquently, she confided her resoluteness against despair, Fields said, recalling her words:

"I'm tired of my life. I struggle, struggle, struggle in my working life and my personal life … I have to be strong. I have to earn. Otherwise, everything will fall to pieces … With courage, I can maintain this life. I cannot lose my courage."

Fields, who reflects on his time with Kalavati in this document and on his life's work in this video, hopes the book helps inspire people to learn about impoverished workers, then contribute to making their lives better.