Employment and Jobs

An Update on the California Future of Work Commission

December 11, 2019  • Natalie Foster & Libby Reder

On International Workers’ Day 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order to create a new Future of Work Commission chartered with the responsibility to develop a new social compact for California workers. Commission members bring experience and perspective from across sectors, including technology, labor, business, education, venture capital, and others. The Commission has met three times, with a focus on The Present and Future State of Work in California (1st convening), Technological Change and the Future of Work (2nd Convening), with experts providing valuable testimony. 

At the 3rd convening on Education, Skills and Job Quality, Aspen Institute Future of Work Initiative Fellow Natalie Foster facilitated a conversation amongst the commissioners focused on solutions that can meet the challenges discussed at the other convenings. The discussion was anchored by the survey of 22 proposals to respond to technological change laid out in our program’s paper, Automation and a Changing Economy: Policies for Shared Prosperity. During our time there, a few things stood out about the California Future of Work Commission.

First, conversations about the future of work often begin with an assumption that the effects of technological change are inevitable—a storm marching inexorably toward us—and our best approach is to construct an umbrella of programs and policy solutions to help workers and the economy weather the inclement conditions. However, the California Future of Work Commission operates instead from the point of view that any change is a choice, that trend lines can be bent, and that if we make the right choices about how and where new technologies are adopted, we can improve the lives of those working today and drive positive outcomes in the future. Technology is not destiny; the impact of innovation on workers is mediated by choices and how we respond to these challenges.

Second, the Commission has challenged some long-held beliefs, both in service of progress and in the spirit of the Commission’s once-in-a-generation mandate. This session was no exception. For example, the convening posed the question: What is a college degree worth—and for whom? William Emmons from the Federal Reserve of St. Louis shared research on returns to a four-year college degree for income and wealth across cohorts and racial groups. Their work has revealed that, on average, a college degree boosts a family’s income and wealth, but those benefits are unequal across race. Specifically, there are large gains for white families, but only small gains for  black and hispanic families. As a result, he provocatively described higher education as “an engine of inequality.” 

Anmol Chaddha, Research Director of the Equitable Futures Lab at the Institute for the Future, also shared new research on workers’ perceptions of job quality: the first ever Great Jobs Survey, a joint effort of the Omidyar Network, Gallup, Lumina Foundation, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This study enabled workers to rate the quality of their jobs on ten different indicators; results showed that only 40 percent of workers report they are in good jobs. This is an example of the Commission’s focus on not just the quantity of jobs in the economy, but the quality of those jobs. The prevalence of low-quality jobs begins to explain why our leading economic indicators show a booming economy characterized by economic growth and low unemployment, while working families often struggle to make ends meet. 

The Commission is scheduled to hold its next meeting on Thursday, December 12 to consider Low-Wage Work and Economic Equity, and plans four additional convenings early in 2020. Building on the work done in other states’ Future of Work Commissions, and informed by the thoughtful work of Commission members, the California Future of Work Commission holds the potential to align critical stakeholders across the state on the urgent need to improve outcomes for workers in California now and in the future. In this way, California can serve as a model for other states that want to prepare their workforce and employers for a changing economy.


Employment and Jobs
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