Press Release

Urban Institute Announces New Platform for Advancing Economic Mobility for Workers

Contact: Archana Pyati, apyati@urban.org (202) 261-5614 

October 13, 2020— The Urban Institute today announced the launch of WorkRise, a new national platform for identifying, testing, and sharing bold ideas for transforming the US labor market. Hosted by Urban with support from a diverse group of philanthropic partners, WorkRise aims to generate and share data and evidence that can help build a more equitable and resilient labor market and increase mobility for workers in low-wage jobs. The initiative will officially kick off with a virtual convening, Launching WorkRise: Uncovering Bold Ideas for Transforming the Low-Wage Labor Market, October 13–16, 2020. 

For decades, workers in middle- and low-wage jobs have been poorly served by the country’s labor market. Since 1979, median wages have risen only modestly even as the productive capacity of workers and the overall economy have grown substantially. Benefits such as paid sick time, family leave, and retirement savings continue to remain out of reach for many, including most gig workers. Racial and gender gaps in wages, wealth, and unemployment rates persist. These and other long-standing inequities have been laid bare by three current crises: the COVID-19 pandemic, the resulting economic fallout, and a national reckoning with structural racism. 

WorkRise will support research—including pilots—that yields actionable insights on policies, programs, and practices that can strengthen economic security and accelerate economic mobility for workers in low-wage jobs. WorkRise will generate and elevate new knowledge and evidence that can move policy and practice toward expanding opportunity and creating more equitable outcomes for workers. WorkRise plans to invest more than $7 million in research grants over the next three years. 

“The future of work in this country is at a critical juncture,” said Urban Institute President Sarah Rosen Wartell. “We designed WorkRise to address vital unanswered questions about our labor market and develop needed evidence that today’s leaders can use to develop policies, programs, and practices that will truly advance economic mobility and security for workers—especially Black workers and other workers of color, women, and youth—who have long faced systemic barriers to opportunity.” 

To develop its research priorities, WorkRise will collaborate with and build upon the work of a diverse network of stakeholders, including leading researchers and research institutions, large and small employers, industry networks, worker advocates and labor organizers, workforce development and human services practitioners, and federal, state, and local policymakers. These partnerships will allow WorkRise to give decisionmakers the evidence and solutions they need to enact and scale meaningful and durable change. 

WorkRise will be guided by a leadership board made up of visionary leaders across industries and sectors. Board members are David Autor, Ford Professor of Economics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Amanda Cage, President and CEO, National Fund for Workforce Solutions; Oren Cass, Executive Director, American Compass; Ramiro Cavazos, President and CEO, United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; Carolyn Cawley, President, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, and Senior Vice President, U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Bill Dirksen, Former Vice President, Labor Affairs, Ford Motor Company; Arin Dube, Professor of Economics, University of Massachusetts Amherst; Tracy Wareing Evans, President and CEO, American Public Human Services Association; Darrick Hamilton, Henry Cohen Professor of Economics and Urban Policy, The New School; Denis McDonough, Senior 

Advisor, The Markle Foundation; Blair Milo, Secretary for Career Connections and Talent, State of Indiana; Eduardo Padrón, President Emeritus, Miami-Dade College; David Rolf, President Emeritus, SEIU 775; Palak Shah, Founding Director, NDWA Labs, and Social Innovations Director, National Domestic Workers Alliance; Nicole Sherard-Freeman, Executive Director of Workforce Development, City of Detroit; William Spriggs, Professor of Economics, Howard University, and Chief Economist to the AFL-CIO; Sandra Susan Smith, Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice, Harvard Kennedy School; Michael R. Strain, Director of Economic Policy Studies and Arthur F. Burns Scholar in Political Economy, American Enterprise Institute; Tanya Wallace-Gobern, Executive Director, National Black Worker Center Project; and David Zammiello, Executive Director, Project QUEST. 

In addition, WorkRise will engage with a diverse group of partners, including the Aspen Institute; Burning Glass Technologies; Business Roundtable; Markle Foundation’s Rework America Alliance; Opportunity@Work; PolicyLink; R Street Institute; Reimagining Main Street, an initiative of Public Private Strategies; Roosevelt Institute; and the TIME’S UP Foundation. WorkRise’s partners will advise on its research agenda and priorities, collaborate on research products and convenings, and amplify findings and best practices to broad and diverse audiences. 

WorkRise’s founding funders are the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth. In addition, WorkRise receives funding support from the Walmart Foundation, the Cognizant U.S. Foundation, The James Irvine Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, General Motors, and other philanthropic partners. 

Learn more at workrisenetwork.org


The nonprofit Urban Institute is a leading research organization dedicated to developing evidence-based insights that improve people’s lives and strengthen communities. For more than 50 years, Urban has been the trusted source for rigorous analysis of complex social and economic issues; strategic advice to policymakers, philanthropists, and practitioners; and new, promising ideas that expand opportunities for all. Our work inspires effective decisions that advance fairness and enhance the well-being of people and places.