The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified concerns about the future of work and the pace of workplace change and has deepened many inequalities. The upheaval, however, creates an opening to rebuild labor markets around fairness and equity, and the American Rescue Plan and other federal initiatives can provide the down payment — although local input and more resources will be needed for lasting change.
To get policymakers started with an evidence-based game plan, the new report, “A Moment of Opportunity: Strategies for Inclusive Economic Growth,” distills insights into both worker and employer roles in shaping healthy post-pandemic local labor markets.
The report comes out of the Upjohn Institute’s "Promise: Investing in Community" initiative, which offers strategies to create good jobs and guidance for local and state policymakers to implement them. The strategies span three categories: education and workforce training; state and local economic development; and childcare and housing.
COVID battered local educational systems, with disadvantaged communities suffering the most. The report recommends attention to each level of education and workforce training, from high-quality pre-kindergarten programs up through place-based college scholarships and adult education realigned with employer needs. Creative approaches such as neighborhood employment hubs can help.
On the employer side, the report stresses aid to small local businesses that fell through the cracks of federal pandemic relief programs. Targeting relief to distressed labor markets is most effective, as the jobs created are more likely to go to non-employed residents.
Finally, the collision of pandemic home and work life laid bare the importance of childcare and housing in supporting employment. Recognizing this, the federal government has directed resources toward early childhood education programs. However, communities need to set standards to keep the quality up and align programs to community needs. Part of the solution involves paying providers more.
Workers also need to live somewhere that gives them access to their job. In many areas, exclusionary zoning makes it hard to afford convenient housing. The report recommends revising single-family zoning rules that perpetuate inequality and limit labor supply. In addition, it suggests working with community partners to support people who struggle to make rent payments.
Good ideas also require good implementation strategies, so the report concludes with advice on organizing and coordinating among stakeholders. Flexible approaches to meeting rigorous standards, involving underrepresented groups, have the best chance to create prosperity for all.