While many of us took advantage of Labor Day to take some time off, the Institute’s Economic Opportunities Program put shoulder to wheel to spread its worker-centered work. The program has so much to say that it’s going to take a few editions of The Weekly Slice to work through it all.
Perhaps the message we need the most comes from Maureen Conway, the program’s executive director. In “Making Labor Day Count for Workers,” she reminds us that Labor Day very often isn’t a holiday for those it’s meant to honor. “Millions of US workers—in retail stores and restaurants, in delivery vans and app-taxis, in factories and on farms—don’t receive any paid holidays,” she writes. “Not even one, not even Labor Day.”
What also escapes notice is the deterioration in workers’ wages and working conditions. And the reason that we aren’t managing that decline, she suggests, is that we’re not measuring it.
What we need to know:
- Are we counting everyone? We don’t really have a clear idea how many farmworkers there are in the US, for instance, and the same is true for nannies, app-based drivers, and others in nonstandard work arrangements.
- Are workers making enough to live on? “Conventional metrics of labor market health focus entirely on numerical questions—the quantity of jobs—or binary ones—whether people are working at all.” Jobs reports often bury earnings data, and rarely provide context about costs of living.
- Are the jobs safe? Data on occupational illness, injuries, and fatalities rely exclusively on employer reports, and those incidents are likely being undercounted.
- Is there a sense of dignity and respect in the work? “For too long, policymakers and the public have been operating on the belief that people just need to get a job and maintain a connection to the labor market to earn a dignified living,” writes Conway. “But that’s not true.”
What we should do:
We need to agree on what constitutes good jobs, and make sure our measures of economic health take those metrics into account.
And while we’re at it:
Countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe mandate a minimum number of paid holidays, paid vacation days, and other types of paid leave. Perhaps it’s time we join practically every other nation on Earth.
Amid labor shortages, job quality concerns, and supply-chain challenges, a time-tested strategy is becoming a hot new topic—and policymakers, business leaders, workers, and investors are coming together to support it. Employee ownership, an idea with strong bipartisan support, provides an opportunity to grow successful businesses while improving workers’ lives. In The Hill, EOP associate director Matt Helmer and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Jeanne Wardford argue that the best way to recognize the contributions of workers this Labor Day is by “giving more of them a stake in ownership so they can earn a greater return on the fruits of their labor and have more freedom and agency over their work and economic future.”
Gig work—as an ideal—offers workers an opportunity to use their talents and skills on flexible schedules. But flexible work isn’t always quality work, and gig workers are largely excluded from the systems designed to protect workers in traditional employment arrangements. In a recent op-ed in Fast Company, The Workers Lab’s Adrian Haro, the Brookings Institution’s Xavier de Souza Briggs, and Shelly Steward of EOP’s Future of Work Initiative share how the findings of the Gig Worker Learning Project can help create a blueprint for good gig work in partnership with gig workers themselves.
“As of now, there is no shared solutions strategy driven by a broad range of gig workers, and creating the infrastructure for that is a tall order,” they write, “largely because gig work is often solitary and physically dispersed.” But there are promising ideas about how to make gig work better, more modern, and inclusive.
This piece was originally published in APIE’s newsletter ‘The Weekly Slice’. Click here to subscribe.