Building Back Better: A National Jobs Strategy: Policy proposals and a framework for action

By Mary Alice McCarthy, Carl Van Horn, and Michael Prebil – Published February 2021 in New AmericaSubscribe to the WFMonitor eNewsletter

This report is the first in a series generated by the Better Employment and Training Strategies (BETS) taskforce, a coalition of 40 leading practitioners and researchers convened in November 2020 by researchers at the George Washington Institute of Public Policy, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, and Corporation for a Skilled Workforce, in order to develop policy recommendations to support the Biden-Harris administration and the 117th Congress in addressing the labor market impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

About the Authors
Mary Alice McCarthy is the director of the Center on Education & Labor at New America, dedicated to restoring the link between education and economic mobility. Carl Van Horn is the founding director of the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, one of the nation’s leading academic centers on workforce policy and practice. Michael Prebil is a policy analyst with the Center on Education & Labor. 

Three broad and measurable goals are presented to help guide the current White House administration’s jobs agenda.

  1. Create good jobs – Through better investments and policies, the U.S. needs to reverse a current economic trend in which more bad jobs are created than good jobs (those with adequate wages and benefits). 
  2. Provide better access to good jobs – The federal government should increase the delivery of “direct and indirect supports, from wage subsidies to skills training to career counseling” for job seekers and employers.
  3. End inequities –  Eliminate all “discriminatory hiring, inequities in pay and benefits, occupations segregation” and other bad habits that prohibit workers from having access to good jobs and advancing equally.

The following broad activities/strategies are presented to advance one or more of the aforementioned broad and measurable goals.

  1. Leverage the federal government’s strengths to create and improve good jobs –  The Biden-Harris Build Back Better plan pledges to create better jobs for all equally by investing in infrastructure, the care economy, and climate change mitigation. In alignment with this pledge, the federal government can mandate its contractors to “pay living wages, provide essential benefits, and hire local employees.” Additionally, it can operate as a model itself by “hiring entry-level apprentices and prioritizing racial and gender equity across the public workforce.”   
  2. Speed up employment for those who need it most – “Opportunity youth, youth and adults impacted by the justice system, long-term unemployed people, people with disabilities, older workers, and workers without postsecondary credentials – all are particularly vulnerable to extended or permanent unemployment in the absence of labor market strategies.” The current administration can make strategic investments and labor market interventions to create jobs for these individuals within their communities. 
  3. Increase effective WFD strategies – “Apprenticeships, career pathways, on-the-job training, and sectorial partnerships have demonstrated [during the Obama administration] consistently strong results.” These types of programs currently have bipartisan support, making it feasible for future expanded investment. 
  4. Improve worker protections and prioritize equity – Worker protections have eroded over the recent past, particularly for low-wage Black, Latinx and women in “retail, hospitality, child care, and home care.”  The rise of the gig economy has also negatively impacted worker protections. “Administrative, regulatory, and legislative enforcement strategies” can be cultivated and expanded to improve worker protections and prioritize equity. 
  5. Back unions and other organizations that improve jobs and eliminate inequity – According to the Economic Policy Institute, employees who are members of unions earn 11.2 more in wages than non-union employees and are more likely to have health, retirement and employer-assisted training benefits. However, only 12 percent of Americans are union members, and only 6 percent in the private sector are union members. The Biden-Harris administration can strengthen unions and work with Congress to “facilitate organizing and collective action.”

The report concluded with a “framework for action” table that featured more specific policy actions the Biden-Harris administration can take to support the five strategies. The actions were listed under three categories: “1) Regulatory, administrative and executive action, 2) Legislative actions, and 3) Fiscal and budgetary actions in order to advance a national jobs agenda.”  

Subscribe to the Workforce Monitor eNewsletter to receive weekly briefs on Credentials and the Future of Work.