An Economy For Everyone: September Quality Jobs Recap

Patrick DugganQuality Jobs

quality jobs

In order to build wealth and create opportunities in and across America’s underserved communities, and reverse the troubling trends we’re seeing in our economy, we no longer find it defensible to focus on job creation alone. It’s clear that job creation does not itself equate to lasting economic change. And so, we must shift our focus to the creation of higher quality jobs — jobs that are good for workers and their families, good for businesses, and good for communities — enabling us to build an economy that works for everyone.

Each month, we bring you the latest roundup of news from the fight for quality jobs for working people.

Security For Workers – Now and In Retirement

When most Americans think of a “good job”, we picture a full-time job with a decent wage, benefits, some retirement plan, and hopefully a schedule we know in advance. But in recent years the lexicon has grown. Work can be temporary, fixed-term, seasonal, project-based, part-time, on a zero-hours contract, casual, agency, freelance, peripheral, contingent, external, non-standard, atypical, platform-based, outsourced, sub-contracted, informal, undeclared, insecure, marginal or precarious. Insecure work is growing, and new studies are showing us that it’s wrecking havoc on the lives of working-class people – and expanding into sectors that used have secure employment.

Speaking of retirement, A new survey from Betterment finds that many working Americans with 401k plans want and need a lot more service than their plans provide, including personal financial advice and need financial education. An example of the need for financial education: 16% of workers with a 401(k) match failed to contribute the maximum amount that could be matched, and 7% didn’t know whether they were offered an employer match.

But a bit of good news this month, as Target – America’s second largest retailer after Walmart – has finally agreed to #RaiseTheWage! The company says they’re going to increase the minimum hourly wage for all workers to $11 next month, and to a $15 minimum wage by 2020. This could benefit hundreds of thousands of workers across the country.

Race, Wealth, and Middle-Class Life

For several years, politicians, researchers, journalists and the public have focused their attention on growing economic inequality in the United States. Most often, this focus is on income (i.e., the wages) rather than on wealth (home ownership, debt, etc). Income inequality, while stark, pales in comparison to the vast economic divide exposed by examining disparities in wealth. A new report from Prosperity Now details how, as stark and as overlooked as these disparities are, they are particularly acute along racial lines as a disproportionate share of the nation’s wealth is held in White hands while households of color own a shrinking slice of the proverbial pie. Today, this translates into a racial wealth divide in which the median net worth of Black and Latino families stands at just $11,000 and $14,000, respectively—a fraction of the $134,000 owned by the median White family.

And the real kicker? It’s getting worse each and every day, even though most wealthy and white Americans think the opposite is happening.  Pacific Standard reports on a new analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco finds “black men and women earn persistently lower wages compared with their white counterparts”—a gap that “cannot be fully explained by differences in age, education, job type, or location.”

Small and Local: Where The Good Jobs Are At

Multinational corporations have begun to recognize that working with local small businesses  can boost their bottom lines and improve lives at the same time. Our friends at ImpactAlpha have a new piece on supply chains, distribution, technology, and reaching new markets all as key areas where the corporation and small and growing businesses can benefit together.

While corporations doing the right things can help on the margins, state and local policy can make an even bigger difference. Locally owned businesses play a central role in healthy communities, and are among the best engines that cities and towns have for advancing economic opportunity. Small business ownership has been a pathway to the middle class for generations of Americans, and continues to be a crucial tool for building wealth and community self-determination. Contrary to popular perception, the decline of small business isn’t because local businesses aren’t competitive. In many cases, it’s because public policy and concentrated market power are working against them.

Why is this important? In the last month we’ve read stories about states and cities clamoring to give massive multi-billion dollar tax breaks to FoxConn and Amazon to land a few thousand jobs in their state, while support for local businesses and communities disappears. This is all a race to the bottom: most of today’s distressed communities have seen zero net gains in employment and business establishment since 2000. In fact, more than half have seen net losses on both fronts.

Our partners at Aspen Institute have a new story out on Charm City Run, which shows how supporting small business with more than lip service leads to better jobs for workers. The company is growing even as thousands of retail outlets have closed across the country this year alone. As so many drop off pace, or hang on with ever-dwindling hopes, CCR has upped their investment to eight locations.