Work is at the core of the American Dream—if you work hard, you can build a better life for yourself and for your children. But for too many in the US, this Dream is receding. Lack of access to quality jobs is a key contributor to this decline in economic mobility. Decades of stagnant real wages, eroding benefits, and declining employment security mean that too many jobs do not provide a pathway to an economically stable life. This burden disproportionately falls on workers of color, women, and younger workers, and is unevenly experienced across geographies.
This situation is not expected to improve. In recent work we note that two-thirds of job growth projected to 2026 is in occupations that typically pay less than a family-sustaining wage.
Moreover, a recent Gallup poll found that respondents’ job quality had a strong influence on their quality of life and over half of respondents reported not having a quality job. To change this trajectory, we need a range of actors working together to improve the quality of jobs. For practitioners focused on connecting people to work, the quality of that work matters. For those focused on economic development and job creation, it is imperative to focus on the kinds of jobs that foster thriving communities. Improving the quality of jobs should be an important goal for anyone trying to connect people to opportunity and strengthen regional economies. Leaders of local initiatives tell us that they are searching for new tools, new modes of work, and new connections as they seek to address the challenge of job quality.
The Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program, with support from Prudential Financial, is launching a new effort to encourage the development of job quality practices that promote access to economic opportunity. In the coming months, we will provide actionable tools and guidance to support leaders across geographies and fields – including workforce development, economic development, capital deployment, policy, worker advocacy, business, and higher education – to engage in practical action to improve jobs in their local communities and connect to a growing national conversation.
What You Can Expect from Us
We seek to broaden awareness, create connections within and across disciplines, and expand the audiences focused on addressing job quality. At the same time, there is a need for more clarity and practical frameworks for how to operationalize a job quality practice. We will document and encourage a broad range of interventions from across fields that help improve the quality of jobs. We will also develop and disseminate an online Job Quality Toolkit, sharing a wide variety of tools and resources to actively encouraging the adoption of promising practices. And we will host a series of Job Quality in Practice webinars to share tools and approaches, highlight the work of field exemplars, and create connections across fields of practice.
Through Opportunity in America events and other communications, we will share information about the need for attention to the quality of employment and a range of ideas for improving job quality, reaching both national influencers and local organizations leading work in communities.
A Call for Collaboration and Engagement
We want to hear from you! We are soliciting feedback and suggestions to inform the development of these resources. Please share your comments and feedback using this form.
We will also conduct a brief survey to learn about specific job quality practices organizations are undertaking, tools organizations are using, and needs for tools and ideas. Please keep an eye out and help us by completing it!
We know that we are not alone in advancing a job quality field of practice. Labor and worker advocacy organizations have long embraced job quality as their core purpose, informing other practitioners’ entry into this field. More recently, the National Fund for Workforce Solutions has advanced job quality strategies with its affiliates. San Diego Workforce Partnership has demonstrated how workforce boards can make job quality a central pillar of their work. The Opportunity Finance Network is actively engaging with its CDFI constituency to advance practices that promote job quality. Organizations like FSG, B-Lab, the Good Jobs Institute, Just Capital, and BSR are looking at how businesses can advance job quality. Our Job Quality Fellows are innovating across the country to expand the availability of better quality jobs. And the list goes on.
Several years ago, as we developed research and publications looking at policies and practices to Raise the Floor and Build Ladders for low-income people, we asked partners in the field to share their experiences and ideas. The thoughtful responses shaped that effort to improve the quality of low-wage work. We hope you will engage with us in this new field-building endeavor.
A Word About Our History
Improving job quality is core to the Economic Opportunities Program’s mission to advance strategies, policies, and ideas to help low- and moderate-income people thrive in a changing economy. We recognize that race, gender, and place intersect with and intensify the challenge of accessing a quality job and achieving economic mobility. We believe that promoting job quality is a means toward advancing inclusion and a free, just, and equitable society.
For over two decades we have explored strategies designed to help low- and moderate-income working people and job seekers to qualify for and connect to work that can sustain them and their families. We have situated our work within the context of local communities and the specifics of particular occupations and industry sectors. We documented strategies that have been successful in helping low-income individuals overcome barriers and connect to better jobs in their local labor market.
In 2012, we launched a series of conversations looking at key employment sectors and asking questions about how low-wage work can be reinvented so that organizations and their workers can succeed together. We built on this work with research and publications looking at how we can Raise the Floor and Build Ladders for low-income people and how we can Restore the Promise of Work. We highlighted business thinking about how successful companies can create good jobs. And we have explored with colleagues how to rebuild the connection between work and wealth. The addition of the Good Companies/Good Jobs Initiative to the Economic Opportunities Program in 2016 and brought a greater depth of understanding regarding the business drivers of quality job creation.
In 2017, with critical support and thought partnership from Prudential and the Ford Foundation, we launched the Job Quality Fellowship. The Fellowship is building the foundation for a job quality field of practice by highlighting specific individuals from a variety of fields and places that are engaged in practical work to advance job quality and to connect practical action in local communities to a national conversation about quality work. Across the two cycles we have worked closely with 33 Job Quality Fellows from across regions and disciplines, whose efforts are deeply informing our new work to expand job quality practice.
We are grateful to Prudential for their ongoing support of the Economic Opportunities Program’s work to build a job quality field of practice.
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The Economic Opportunities Program advances strategies, policies, and ideas to help low- and moderate-income people thrive in a changing economy. Join our mailing list and follow us on social media to stay connected to our work, including events, publications, blog posts, and more.