Employment and Jobs

Caryn York, Job Quality Fellow

December 12, 2019  • Economic Opportunities Program

Executive Director, Job Opportunities Task Force

While Maryland is one of the nation’s wealthiest states, current and historical policies have contributed to economic disparities for its residents. In Baltimore, the unemployment rate outpaces the national average, and is more than three times higher for black households compared to white households. Residents who are employed still confront racial wage disparities, and often subsist on limited workplace benefits.

Job Opportunities Task Force (JOTF) addresses these disparities by both delivering job training and advocating for changes that confront systemic barriers to opportunity for workers.

“Securing any job does not provide for economic advancement on its own,” says JOTF Executive Director Caryn York. “If we want to ensure that our working families are able to stay secure, then we have to talk about job quality.”

JOTF’s construction pre-apprenticeship program, Project Jumpstart, connects residents with first-time jobs averaging $13 an hour. JOTF also builds connections to opportunities for higher earnings and career advancement. At the same time, this program helps JOTF develop a deeper understanding of workers’ needs and build relationships with employers to help them see the value of improved job quality. York and her team also advocate for change in Annapolis, recently winning approval of expanded sick leave over the governor’s veto.

“JOTF takes a comprehensive approach to increasing economic opportunity for Maryland’s workers,” says York. “The experiences of workers in Project Jumpstart inform our policy advocacy agenda. Likewise, our job training and advocacy support – and are influenced by – our cutting-edge research and public education efforts.”

JOTF’s report “The Criminalization of Poverty” draws attention to how mass incarceration influences poverty and identifies criminal justice reforms to strengthen equal access to economic opportunity.

Workforce Development Organizations and Systems Change

JOTF goes beyond traditional workforce strategies, working to transform the systems and policies that perpetuate barriers to opportunity. “Policy reform is a huge piece of our mission,” explains York. Recent policy successes include building coalitions to increase Maryland’s minimum wage to $15 an hour and expand sick leave, both over gubernatorial vetoes, as well as restricting private sector employers from asking applicants about criminal backgrounds.

Building on its credibility as a workforce service provider, JOTF engages directly with business leaders to advocate for policies that improve job quality. JOTF provides a platform for business leaders and workers to communicate to policymakers the value of high job quality, not only in the construction sector, but for all frontline jobs across Maryland. “That policymakers can see firsthand what it’s like to work in many of these environments and not be able to provide for a family is part of why we’ve seen many successes,” explains York.

Currently, JOTF is expanding its programming to serve young people ages 16 to 24 with a focus on connections to stable employment and opportunities for advancement. JOTF will also advance new policy priorities that directly or indirectly impact workers’ ability to secure and maintain employment, including improving wages and benefits, eliminating employment barriers for formerly incarcerated individuals, and strengthening the training and post-secondary education system.



Under the leadership of #JobQuality Fellow Caryn York, @jotfmaryland works to connect Maryland residents with opportunities for higher earnings and career advancement.

As in many places, Maryland residents face huge economic disparities along racial lines. @jotfmaryland, led by #JobQuality Fellow Caryn York, is working to confront these inequities through both service and advocacy.

Successful workforce strategies require deep changes to systems and policies. At @jotfmaryland, #JobQuality Fellow Caryn York is combating barriers to opportunity, such as low wages, restrictive hiring, and limited access to paid leave.

“Securing any job does not provide for economic advancement on its own. If we want to ensure that our working families are able to stay secure, then we have to talk about job quality.” #JobQuality Fellow Caryn York (@jotfmaryland)

Our economy needs more quality jobs. Learn how leaders like Caryn York of @jotfmaryland are innovating to boost opportunity in communities across the country.


Learn more

Caryn York is a member of the Job Quality Fellowship, Class of 2018-19. The Job Quality Fellowship is a project of the Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program.

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