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Dirty Work: Essential Jobs and the Hidden Costs of Inequality

Journalist Eyal Press reveals the toll the pandemic has wrought on essential workers, changing the way we think about 'low-skilled' and low paid jobs

Guards who patrol the wards of America’s most violent and abusive prisons. Undocumented immigrants who man the ‘kill floors’ of industrial slaughterhouses. Roustabouts who drill for oil on offshore rigs. And drone operators who kill people from thousands of miles away.

These are the essential workers we prefer not to think about. Their often physically violent and dangerous activities sustain modern society, yet they are mainly hidden from our gaze. Theirs is work that takes place disproportionately in deprived areas and is undertaken mainly by immigrants and people of colour. And the work comes with a particular set of occupational hazards – stigma, shame and moral injury. In February 2022, American journalist Eyal Press came to Intelligence Squared to reveal the truths about a whole world of work many of us never encounter. Drawing from his new investigative book Dirty Work he explored the toll the pandemic has wrought on essential workers and, changing the way we think about ‘low-skilled’ and low paid jobs. 

Praise for Dirty Work 

“[A] disturbing and necessary new book… In Press’ moral worldview, there are not only guilt and innocence, but rather fine-grained degrees of culpability and exculpation that fit uneasily with the sensibilities of a sound-bite-driven social media culture…” – Tamsin Shaw, New York Times Book Review

“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 and 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



Eyal Press

Writer and journalist

Writer and journalist who contributes to The New Yorker, The New York Times and other publications. Since spring 2021, he is also a sociologist with a PhD from New York University. He is the author of three books Absolute Convictions, Beautiful Souls and most recently Dirty Work.

Rosamund Urwin

Senior Reporter for the Sunday Times and columnist at London Evening Standard.

Senior Reporter for the Sunday Times and columnist at London Evening Standard. She has been published in Elle, The New Statesman, Grazia, Marie Claire and regularly appears on current affairs programmes on the BBC.