Areas of Focus

Demographic disparities

Many workers in the US experience limited opportunities and are over- or underrepresented in certain kinds of jobs because of occupational segregation and discrimination. They are affected in adverse and unequal ways in the labor market based on race, ethnicity, gender, age, ability, and other demographic characteristics. WorkRise generates evidence on and elevates our understanding of how demographic disparities and inequities can be addressed to promote economic mobility for all workers and create a more equitable labor market.
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Economic context

People’s access to opportunity and advancement in the labor market is shaped by macroeconomic forces, technological change, policy choices, and labor market dynamics. Over the past 40 years, these influences have culminated in greater income inequality and less upward economic mobility for US workers. They have also contributed to a growing share of low-wage jobs in the US labor market. WorkRise generates evidence on and elevates our understanding of how macroeconomic, technological change, policy, and labor market dynamics influence economic security and mobility.
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Employer practices

Employer practices such as hiring, scheduling, promotion, supervision, and on-the-job training determine workers’ day-to-day reality and long-term prospects in the labor market. The growing prevalence of independent contractors and contingent workers underscores the continued fissuring of employer-employee relationships. And the rise of the gig, app-based economy signals that more workers are pursuing nontraditional work arrangements, which may offer both advantages (flexibility and supplementary income) and disadvantages (income volatility and a lack of worker protections and access to benefits). WorkRise generates evidence on and elevates our understanding of how employer practices and shifting employer-employee relationships shape economic security and mobility.
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Federal policy

The federal government has a significant influence on shaping workers’ economic mobility and security. Federal laws, policies, and regulations govern wages, benefits, workplace standards, and protections against discrimination and unsafe working conditions. Federal policy governs income support and social insurance programs such as Social Security, and recent fiscal and monetary policies intended to provide economic relief to workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The federal government also oversees major safety net programs for workers with low incomes—such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Medicaid—and it invests in workforce development systems, including community colleges and career and technical education. In addition, federal policy related to taxes, trade, and business competition also influence workers’ economic well-being. WorkRise generates evidence on and elevates our understanding of federal policies that facilitate or limit economic security and mobility.
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Financial stability

Savings, asset-building, and access to credit play a significant role in driving upward economic mobility, particularly across generations. These factors not only allow workers to raise their standard of living, they also provide a financial cushion to absorb shocks such as a layoff or medical emergency. Although workers in low-wage occupations often do not have access to credit or asset-building tools such as retirement savings, new models for building wealth and credit have emerged. WorkRise generates evidence on and elevates our understanding of how wealth building and other forms of financial security shape economic security and mobility.
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Job search and matching

How people search for and match to jobs reflects how well the labor market is functioning for both workers and employers. Frictions that inhibit effective, efficient searches and matches can lead to worse outcomes for both. New search technologies, including online platforms assisted by artificial intelligence, could improve search and matching but raise questions about their equity and effectiveness. And understanding how switching jobs and occupations affects workers’ career paths and economic trajectories is also critical to improving mobility. WorkRise generates evidence on and elevates our understanding of how job search and matching processes and platforms can limit or facilitate economic security and mobility.
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Skills and training

Human capital development—or people’s ability to acquire skills and knowledge through education and training—advances workers’ economic opportunity and strengthens employers and the economy. Yet the complex landscape of skills and training is fragmented across institutions of higher education, public and private providers, and other credentialing programs. More importantly, human capital development alone does not lead to greater economic mobility, as many workers continue to face barriers to reaching their full potential in the labor market. WorkRise generates evidence on and elevates our understanding of the relationship between human capital development and economic security and mobility.
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Stakeholder voices

WorkRise engages a diverse group of stakeholders to inform our strategy and carry out our mission of rebuilding a more equitable labor market so that all workers have access to opportunity and upward mobility. Our Leadership Board, institutional partners, and other members of our network represent diverse perspectives across our core stakeholder communities. These communities include researchers and research institutions; employers and business networks; labor unions and worker advocates; leaders and practitioners in workforce development, economic development, and human services; policymakers at every level; and members of the philanthropic community. Our stakeholders each have distinctive and, at times, divergent points of view, but they also share common ideas about how to create economic opportunity and mobility for workers in low-wage, low-quality jobs. By highlighting their unique perspectives, WorkRise aims to convey our inclusive and nonpartisan approach to developing evidence-based solutions for rebuilding a more equitable labor market.
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State and local policy

States and localities shape workers’ economic mobility and security through a number of channels. State and local agencies work with employers and workforce training providers to create economic opportunities for workers and help match people’s skills with employer needs. States and localities can also shape workers’ opportunity for upward mobility by enacting their own laws on minimum wage, occupational licensing, collective bargaining, paid leave, and programs such as universal prekindergarten. WorkRise generates evidence on and elevates our understanding of state and local policies that advance or limit economic security and mobility.
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Supportive services

Social factors outside of work have profound effects on people’s ability to navigate and achieve upward mobility in the labor market. Family caregiving responsibilities, poor physical and mental health, a lack of reliable transportation, and food and housing insecurity can limit workers’ opportunities for mobility if supports such as child care, health care, coaching, transportation, and food and housing assistance aren’t in place. WorkRise generates evidence on and elevates our understanding of how social factors outside the labor market and supportive services shape economic security and mobility.
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Wages and employer-provided benefits

Wages and employer-provided benefits such as health insurance, paid leave, and retirement savings are fundamental components of job quality. They are primary drivers of people’s economic security and mobility that are determined by a complex set of levers, including market forces, industry norms, employer decisionmaking, and public policy. WorkRise generates evidence on and elevates our understanding of how wages and benefits affect workers’ economic security and mobility.
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Worker voice, representation, and power

Unions, collective bargaining, and other forms of advocacy have resulted in better wages, benefits, and working conditions for workers. Organized labor, however, is at a crossroads, as union membership has declined. As unions evolve to meet the needs of a globalized, 21st-century workforce, nonunion forms of worker organizing, sectoral bargaining, and worker representation on corporate boards have emerged as new forms of worker voice and representation. WorkRise generates evidence on and elevates our understanding of how worker voice, representation, and power influences economic security and mobility.
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