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Employment and Jobs

Essential Jobs, Inequality, and “Dirty Work”: A Book Talk with Eyal Press

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The pandemic has heightened many organizations’ focus on job quality: now is the time to shift focus from fixing workers to fixing work. Companies are facing pressure to improve factors that contribute to job quality including wages, benefits, workplace safety, racial and gender equity, and opportunities to learn and grow. But often overlooked is the content of the work—how does what we do align with who we think we are? In his new book, “Dirty Work: Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America,” Eyal Press explores the toll of moral injuries at work, highlighting the working conditions of jobs that typically go unseen and raising disquieting questions about our society and its dependence on these jobs. For anyone concerned about job quality, “Dirty Work” is essential reading. We hope you enjoy this conversation with the author.


October 20: Essential Jobs, Inequality, and “Dirty Work.” Join @AspenWorkforce for a virtual book talk with author @EyalPress. Moderated by @conway_maureen. Happening 2 pm Eastern (11am Pacific). RSVP and join the conversation by tweeting #talkopportunity.

.@EyalPress joins @maureen_conway on October 20 at 2pm ET (11am PT) to talk about his new book: “Dirty Work: Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America.”

Now is the time to shift focus from fixing workers to fixing work. Join @EyalPress, @maureen_conway, and @AspenWorkforce on Oct 20 to discuss Eyal’s new book: “Dirty Work: Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America.”

What does the quality of work in the US say about our society? @EyalPress and @maureen_conway sit down on Oct 20 to discuss his new book, “Dirty Work: Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America.”

From #wages to #benefits, from equity to workplace safety, it’s time to fix work. Join @EyalPress, @conway_maureen, and @AspenWorkforce to discuss Eyal’s new book: “Dirty Work: Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America.”

I’m excited to #talkopportunity with @EyalPress about essential jobs, inequality, and dirty work. Join me for a virtual book talk on October 20 at 2pm ET (11am PT). Hosted by @AspenWorkforce.

About the Book

Cover for the book, “Dirty Work: Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America”

Drone pilots who carry out targeted assassinations. Undocumented immigrants who man the “kill floors” of industrial slaughterhouses. Guards who patrol the wards of the United States’ most violent and abusive prisons. In “Dirty Work,” Eyal Press offers a paradigm-shifting view of the moral landscape of contemporary America through the stories of people who perform society’s most ethically troubling jobs. As Press shows, we are increasingly shielded and distanced from an array of morally questionable activities that other, less privileged people perform in our name.

The COVID-19 pandemic has drawn unprecedented attention to essential workers, and to the health and safety risks to which workers in prisons and slaughterhouses are exposed. But Dirty Work examines a less familiar set of occupational hazards: psychological and emotional hardships such as stigma, shame, PTSD, and moral injury. These burdens fall disproportionately on low-income workers, undocumented immigrants, women, and people of color.

Illuminating the moving, sometimes harrowing stories of the people doing society’s dirty work, and incisively examining the structures of power and complicity that shape their lives, Press reveals fundamental truths about the moral dimensions of work and the hidden costs of inequality in America.

Read more at and get your copy at Amazon,, Barnes and Noble, Powell’s, or Target.

Praise for “Dirty Work”

“In this richly reported, disquieting book, Eyal Press highlights the stigmatizing, morally injurious work we ask some of the least advantaged members of society to perform in our name. Prison guards, slaughterhouse workers, and drone operators who carry out high-tech killings perform society’s ‘dirty work’ out of public view. This book will prompt a public reckoning with inequality in work by revealing how we are all implicated in the dirty work we outsource to others.” ―Michael J. Sandel, author of “The Tyranny of Merit: Can We Find the Common Good?”

“Long before the COVID pandemic highlighted our dependence on essential workers, our existence as consumers and citizens was underpinned by an army of people doing jobs we might prefer not to think about. In this penetrating, astutely observed, beautifully written book, Eyal Press explores the lives of those who work these jobs: the corrections officer, the drone operator, the woman who slaughters chickens for a living. Dirty Work makes no easy judgments, but instead confronts a series of deep and vexing moral questions. It exposes the bonds of complicity that make this not just someone else’s story, but one which implicates us all. A masterful, important book.” ―Patrick Radden Keefe, author of “Empire of Pain”

“This is a scathing and thoughtful book about labor and principles―or, rather about when the former sabotages the latter, in the brutal industries that prop up American life, from our appetite for cheap meat and fossil fuel to mass incarceration to remote killing as part of our foreign policy to the tech industry’s amoral profit seeking. Though the moral injury impacts the workers first, it belongs to us all. Eyal Press brings this home in a series of powerful portraits of workers, and through considerations of both their industries and the ways we look away or are prevented from seeing what they do. Ultimately, Dirty Work is a book about human sacrifice and the forces that disguise it.” ―Rebecca Solnit, author of “Recollections of My Nonexistence: A Memoir”


Photo of Eyal Press

Eyal Press @EyalPress
Journalist and Author, “Dirty Work: Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America”

Eyal Press is a writer and journalist who contributes to The New Yorker, The New York Times, and other publications. Since the spring of 2021, he is also a sociologist with a PhD from New York University. He grew up in Buffalo, which served as the backdrop of his first book, “Absolute Convictions” (2006). His second book, “Beautiful Souls” (2012), examined the nature of moral courage through the stories of individuals who risked their careers, and sometimes their lives, to defy unjust orders. A New York Times editors’ choice, the book has been translated into numerous languages and selected as the common read at several universities, including Penn State and his alma mater, Brown University. His most recent book, “Dirty Work” (2021), examines the morally troubling jobs that society tacitly condones and the hidden class of workers who do them. A recipient of the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism, he has received an Andrew Carnegie fellowship, a Cullman Center fellowship at the New York Public Library, and a Puffin Foundation fellowship at Type Media Center.


Photo of Maureen Conway

Maureen Conway @conway_maureen
Vice President, The Aspen Institute; Executive Director, Economic Opportunities Program @AspenWorkforce

Maureen Conway serves as vice president at the Aspen Institute and as executive director of the Institute’s Economic Opportunities Program (EOP). EOP works to expand individuals’ opportunities to connect to quality work, start businesses, and build economic stability that provides the freedom to pursue opportunity.

Opportunity in America

The Economic Opportunities Program’s Opportunity in America discussion series has moved to an all-virtual format as we all do what we can to slow the spread of COVID-19. But the conversations about the changing landscape of economic opportunity in the US and implications for individuals, families, and communities across the country remain vitally important. We hope you will participate as we bring our discussions to you in virtual formats, and we look forward to your feedback.

We are grateful to Prudential Financial,, the Surdna Foundation, the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, and the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth for their support of this series.

Learn More

The Economic Opportunities Program advances strategies, policies, and ideas to help low- and moderate-income people thrive in a changing economy. Follow us on social media and join our mailing list to stay up-to-date on publications, blog posts, events, and other announcements.

Event information
Wed Oct 20, 2021
2:00pm - 3:00pm EDT