past event
Employment and Jobs

Quality Jobs for All: What Would It Take?

About this event

At a time of record low unemployment, the problem we now face is not that people don’t have work, but that they don’t have good work. As the economy booms, low wages, limited benefits, and insecure employment are still the reality for many working people. What will it take to make sure everyone in the United States has quality jobs?

The Aspen Institute and Urban Institute have been exploring this issue through different vantage points, to better understand the challenges that we face and the implications for policies and practices that improve job quality. And while the issue of quality jobs is one of national importance, solutions also need to respond to the needs of different places and communities across the country and be inclusive of all, regardless of race, gender, or other factors. Governments at all levels, businesses, civic, labor, and community organizations and more, all have roles to play in addressing the need for quality work.

What do we know and what do we need to know so that we can build a world of work in which hard work truly does lead to a dignified living? This conversation brings together different experiences and perspectives to explore this question. We feature a senior researcher from the Urban Institute together with Aspen Institute Job Quality Fellows from business, community development finance, and workforce and policy development who are working to create quality jobs in their communities.


Opening remarks

Sarah Keh
Vice President, Corporate Social Responsibility, Prudential Financial

Sarah S. Keh is a vice president of corporate social responsibility at Prudential Financial. In her current role, she oversees Prudential’s efforts to expand economic opportunity and create inclusive communities through financial resources and skills-based volunteering. This includes leading early talent and workforce initiatives, inclusive economic growth strategies, global emergency response and recovery efforts in disasters and humanitarian crises, nonprofit capacity building, pro bono and board service programs.

Prior to joining Prudential, she was the associate director of teaching & learning at The Center for Arts Education. She also served as a program associate and operations manager at Associated Grant Makers, Inc.

Sarah currently serves on the Partners Council of the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, the Inclusion & Diversity Committee of the Society of Actuaries, the board of JerseyCAN, and is co-chair of the Newark Education Funders Group. She was also selected as a Presidential Leadership Scholar in the 2015 inaugural class.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Wellesley College and a master’s degree in education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.



Amanda BlondeauAmanda Blondeau
Business Services Director, Northern Initiatives

Amanda Blondeau is the Director of Business Services for Northern Initiatives. Northern Initiatives provides capital and know-how to entrepreneurs in Michigan and the five border counties of Wisconsin. Business Services provides the “know-how” to start-up borrowers and growing businesses to be more knowledgeable and capable of building systems to support growth.

Amanda is the project leader for the development and implementation of Initiate, Northern Initiatives’ online business education portal, which has increased customers served by 20% per year. Initiate is licensed to six CDFIs to enhance their business advisory programs. In collaboration with these CDFIS, an Initiate Learning Community is helping to share best practices, drive ongoing innovation, and evaluate outcomes.

During her 15-year tenure at Northern Initiatives, she’s held multiple roles including Network Administrator, Information Technology Consultant, and Business Coach.

Amanda participated in industry cohorts including the FIELD at Aspen Institute’s Emerging Leaders of Microbusiness (squared), Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses CDFI Growth and Finance Collaboratives, and currently the Wells Fargo Diverse Community Capital Knowledge Network.

She’s a native of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (Yooper) and currently telecommutes from Charlottesville, Virginia, where she lives with her husband and two dogs.

Demetra Nightingale

Demetra Nightingale
Institute Fellow, Urban Institute

Demetra Nightingale is an Institute fellow at the Urban Institute, where her research focuses on social, economic, and labor policy issues. She was the chief evaluation officer at the US Department of Labor from 2011 to 2016, where she developed what is recognized as one of the premier evaluation units in the federal government. Before joining the Department of Labor, Nightingale was at the Urban Institute for three decades, conducting research and evaluations on employment, labor, welfare, and other social and economic policies and programs, and at the Johns Hopkins University for seven years, where she taught graduate courses in social policy and program evaluation. She is also a professorial lecturer at the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration at the George Washington University, teaching graduate courses in program evaluation, integrating evaluation, and performance management in the context of evidence-based policymaking.

Richard Plympton

Rick Plympton
CEO, Optimax Systems

Optimax manufactures precision optics for research and industry, serving a wide variety of applications for semiconductor, medical, defense and aerospace. Founded in 1991, Optimax currently has 300+ employees sharing a corporate culture of continuous learning and employee empowerment; and continues to grow at an average rate of 20% per year.

Rick Plympton is the CEO of Optimax located in Ontario, NY. During his 22 years at Optimax, he has held several roles including Quality Manager and VP of Sales and Marketing, before taking on the role of CEO.

In 2012, he received the SBA Small Business Person of the Year award for NY State and he will be inducted into the Rochester Business Hall of Fame in October 2018. He is actively involved in supporting area colleges and the optics industry; he currently sits on the Finger Lakes Community College Foundation Board, is Vice Chair of the Finger Lakes Workforce Investment Board and Treasurer of the New York Photonics Cluster.

He holds degrees in business administration, computer science and engineering science from Finger Lakes Community College. He furthered his education at the University of Rochester with a Bachelor of Science degree in Optics and an MBA.

Rick provides the leadership and vision needed to position Optimax as America’s largest and most responsive precision optics manufacturer.

Caryn York

Caryn York
Executive Director, Job Opportunities Task Force

Caryn York is Executive Director of the Job Opportunities Task Force (JOTF), an independent, statewide nonprofit organization that promotes policies and programs to help low-wage workers advance to high-wage jobs. Caryn is the first African American female to lead the 23-year old organization.

Caryn works tirelessly to encourage key policymakers and stakeholders to adopt and support policies and programs that eliminate educational and employment barriers and facilitate the successful entry, or re-entry, of low-wage workers. As such, Caryn has been instrumental in leading numerous state and local policy reform efforts including, but not limited to, ‘Ban the Box’ on job and college applications, expansion of criminal record expungement and shielding laws, postsecondary access and affordability, and reducing the impact of incarceration on working families through development, passage, and implementation of the Maryland Justice Reinvestment Act and statewide bail reform.

Caryn majored in International Studies at Washington College, and has worked within state and local politics for over 10 years.



E.J. Dionne

E.J. Dionne
Columnist, The Washington Post

E.J. Dionne writes about politics in a twice-weekly column for The Washington Post. He is also a government professor at Georgetown University, a visiting professor at Harvard University, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution and a frequent commentator on politics for National Public Radio and MSNBC. Before joining The Post in 1990 as a political reporter, Dionne spent 14 years at the New York Times, where he covered politics and reported from Albany, Washington, Paris, Rome and Beirut. His coverage of the Vatican was described by the Los Angeles Times as the best in two decades. In 2014-2015, Dionne was the vice president of the American Political Science Association. He is the author of seven books. His most recent are “One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet Deported” (co-authored with Norman J. Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann, 2017) and “Why the Right Went Wrong: Conservatism – From Goldwater to the Tea Party and Beyond” (2016). Dionne is the editor of seven additional volumes, including “We Are the Change We Seek: The Speeches of Barack Obama” (2017), co-edited with MSNBC’s Joy-Ann Reid, and “What’s God Got to Do with the American Experiment” (2000), co-edited with John J. DiIulio. He grew up in Fall River, Mass., attended Harvard College and was a Rhodes Scholar at Balliol College, Oxford. He lives in Bethesda, Md., with his wife, Mary Boyle. They have three children, James, Julia and Margot.



As the economy booms, low wages, limited benefits, and insecure employment are still the reality for many working people. What will it take to make sure everyone has a quality job?

At a time of record low unemployment, the problem we now face is not that people don’t have work, but that they don’t have good work. What can we do to promote quality jobs?

Event: “Quality Jobs for All: What Would It Take?” hosted by @AspenWorkforce & @urbaninstitute on June 13. RSVP now!


Join the conversation

Join the conversation on Twitter by following @AspenWorkforce and @urbaninstitute and tweeting with the hashtag #talkgoodjobs.


Learn more

This event is part of the Working in America series, an ongoing discussion series hosted by the Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program that highlights an array of critical issues affecting low- and moderate-income workers in the United States and ideas for improving and expanding economic opportunities for working people. We are grateful to the Ford Foundation, Prudential Financial, and the Walmart Foundation for their support of this series. For more information, visit

Learn how the Economic Opportunities Program is helping low- and moderate-income Americans connect to and thrive in a changing economy. Follow us on social media and join our mailing list to stay up-to-date on publications, blog posts, and other announcements.

Event information
Thu Jun 13, 2019
12:00pm - 1:30pm EDT
The Aspen Institute
2300 N Street NW Suite 700
Washington DC 20016