November 28, 2023—WorkRise, a research-to-action network on jobs, workers, and mobility hosted by the Urban Institute, has awarded $3 million to support 12 research projects aimed at improving economic security and mobility for low-wage workers and creating a more equitable labor market. The projects selected build on foundations laid through previous research investments from WorkRise and break new ground in emerging areas of focus, particularly in small business practices.
More than 120 teams applied for funding in response to a request for proposals (RFP) launched earlier this year. Seventeen finalists were invited to submit full proposals, which were reviewed by WorkRise’s selection committee, Leadership Board, and peer reviewers with research expertise in the fields covered.
Project teams comprise multidisciplinary researchers and practitioners and innovative partnerships that include seven Historically Black Colleges and Universities, as well as several minority-led and minority-serving organizations. These collaborations will ensure evidence and solutions are grounded in the voices and experiences of the communities where they focus.
“Our newly announced grantees bring a wealth of cross-sector collaboration, expertise and innovation to WorkRise, with the potential to drive substantial positive changes for both workers and employers,” said Todd Greene, executive director of WorkRise. “Through their work, we anticipate a profound impact on workforce development, economic mobility, and a more prosperous, equitable future for all stakeholders in the labor market.”
These projects complement a growing portfolio of WorkRise research investments, now totaling over $10 million, designed to fill the most critical knowledge gaps and shape the priorities, frameworks, and actions of labor market actors, including policymakers, employers, worker advocates, practitioners, philanthropies, and scholars. Evidence generated from previous WorkRise grants is catalyzing mobility-supportive policies and practices and building the capacities of organizations to expand and continue their work. As these new projects launch and yield results, WorkRise and its network will amplify findings using their digital platforms, research translation capacities, and convening power.
WorkRise Leadership Board bylaws require board members who submit proposals for consideration to recuse themselves from reviewing their own proposals. However, they are permitted to review other proposals for funding. Proposals from board members must also receive approval from three-quarters of the WorkRise Leadership Board. These rules were applied to the proposals submitted by Arin Dube, who serves on the WorkRise Leadership Board, and from NDWA Labs, whose founding director (Palak Shah) also serves on the Leadership Board.
The projects receiving funding are:
The Workforce Almanac: Mapping the US Workforce Development Sector
Project Organizations: President and Fellows of Harvard College
Principal Investigators: David Deming
This project will use the Workforce Almanac public data portal supported by a past WorkRise grant to analyze key research questions about the workforce development sector, including how the geographic distribution of training programs shapes opportunities for different communities. The project will also seek greater detail on training programs offered and interview state policymakers to understand how Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act (WIOA) funds are being deployed, and which innovations are yielding promising results.
Strategic Wage Concealment and Labor Market Power
Project Organizations: University of Georgia
Principal Investigators: Matthew Knepper, Ian Schmutte, Leonard Goff
Researchers at the University of Georgia and the University of Calgary seek to understand why firms commonly conceal wage information in job advertisements, advancing the hypothesis that firms find it profitable to strategically restrict access to information on jobseekers’ outside wage options when those firms face less competition for workers. The researchers evaluate this hypothesis by analyzing how wage posting behavior responds to hospital mergers and how compliance with wage posting laws varies by employer concentration, based on online job ads collected by Lightcast over 12 years. Findings may help policymakers better understand the potential benefits and limitations of pay transparency laws.
Increasing Black Income and Wealth through Employee Ownership
Project Organizations: Project Equity, UC Riverside, Morehouse College
Principal Investigators: Hilary Abell, Robynn Cox, Cynthia Hewitt, Taura Taylor
Researchers and practitioners from Project Equity, UC Riverside, and Morehouse College propose to study whether (and how) employee ownership models are a successful model for job quality and Black wealth creation. They will analyze National Longitudinal Survey (NLS) data on wealth outcomes for Black workers at employee-owned (EO) businesses, and conduct in-depth interviews with Atlanta business owners and workers. Further policy analysis and case studies will examine practices and supports that could help employee-owned businesses succeed, and a database of EO-related policies will be constructed as a resource to researchers and practitioners.
Advancing Worker Mobility and Well-Being through Microbusiness
Project Organizations: Association for Enterprise Opportunity
Principal Investigators: Lori Diane Smith, Chelsea Maxwell
The Association for Enterprise Opportunity (AEO) will conduct surveys and in-depth interviews of owners and employees of microbusinesses (businesses with 10 or fewer employees) to better understand: the opportunities and barriers microbusinesses face in attracting and supporting workers; the employer practices that are most attractive to workers at such enterprises; and what roles community development financial institutions and other business support organizations could play to support the adoption of best hiring and employee retention practices.
Building Strategic Enforcement to Improve Labor Standards
Project Organizations: Harvard Kennedy School, The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University
Principal Investigators: David Weil, Danny Schneider
Researchers from the Harvard Kennedy School and the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University will develop and test new data tools to help state labor enforcement agencies more strategically deploy investigative and compliance enforcement resources. The team will leverage data collected from workers by the Shift Project, a joint project of Harvard Kennedy School and UCSF, merged with rich administrative data to identify firms and establishments where workers are at high risk of wage theft, violation of paid sick leave protections, inadequate breaktime, and inadequate advance notice of scheduling. They will then develop a proof-of-concept tool to identify businesses with high levels of noncompliance and create a framework to field test the tool using an experimental design with two collaborating state labor enforcement agencies.
Measuring Domestic Worker Voice
Project Organizations: National Domestic Workers Alliance, MIT Institute for Work and Employment Research
Principal Investigator: Paulina López González
A multidisciplinary project team will conduct a technology-enabled survey of a sample from over 200,000 US domestic workers (primarily house cleaners, nannies, and home care workers) to create a baseline dataset for understanding worker voice. Building on previous worker voice research by Thomas A. Kochan and colleagues, the survey will shed light on conditions that domestic workers experience and workers’ perceptions of whether and how they have meaningful power to shape their work lives. Findings could inform the development and enforcement of labor protections for domestic workers as well as other pathways for strengthening worker voice and worker power in what are often precarious and private work arrangements.
Advancing Black Workers in the South: An HBCU Research Initiative
Project Organizations: Jobs with Justice Education Fund, Center for Economic Policy Research, Cornell School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Clinton College, Clark Atlanta University, Jackson State University, Norfolk State University, and University of Texas Arlington
Principal Investigators: Algernon Austin, Kate Bronfenbrenner, Erin Johansson, Jason Tomlinson
A collaborative of researchers, including five Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), will lead an in-depth study of worker organizing by Black workers in five locations across the South. The project will support the research capacity-building of scholars at the HBCUs in conducting field surveys on organizing strategies, workplace practices, and working conditions. Resulting case studies and comparative analyses will yield richer detail on the experiences of Black workers in the South, potentially informing more effective organizing efforts in the future.
Do Labor Unions Improve Working Conditions for Health Care Workers?
Project Organizations: George Washington University, Service Employees International Union
Principal Investigators: Adam Dean, Paula Chatterjee, Atheendar Venkataramani, Jamie McCallum, David Michaels
A cross-disciplinary team of researchers will empirically investigate whether unionization at hospitals and nursing homes contributes to better wages and working conditions, and whether those gains are especially strong for Black workers in health care settings. The team will merge a unique dataset on union presence at hospitals and nursing homes with outcome data from the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services and the American Hospital Association, and supplement their analysis with semi-structured interviews with health care workers, managers, and union leaders.
Labor Market Competition and Re-Allocation in Tight Labor Markets
Project Organizations: University of Massachusetts Amherst
Principal Investigator: Arindrajit Dube
This project will assess how labor market tightness affects labor market competition and wage inequality. In particular, the project will evaluate the recent tight labor market in the United States following the pandemic to better understand its broader implications. Using administrative and payroll data, as well as public survey data, the authors will assess to what extent the tighter labor market has led to greater competition, as well as reallocation toward more productive jobs and employers. Understanding these dynamics will help policymakers and employers develop policies and practices appropriate to underlying labor market conditions.
Understanding Trends in California’s Labor Force Participation
Project Organizations: Public Policy Institute of California
Principal Investigators: Julien Lafortune, Sarah Bohn, Hans Johnson, Marisol Cuellar Mejia
Researchers from the Public Policy Institute of California will lead an in-depth analysis of the drivers of labor participation in California, which has not recovered to prepandemic levels. Using detailed survey data, the team will identify potential drivers of differences across socioeconomic and demographic characteristics (race, gender, age, family structure, geography, and more). Findings will inform state economic policy and forward-looking conversations about how policies should respond to anticipated demographic changes in the state. The work will be informed by a multi-stakeholder engagement process that will capture sentiments and potential solutions from the field and broaden uptake of findings. This project may also serve as a model for researchers seeking to do similar analyses to inform and engage local policymakers in other states and regions.
Did the Pandemic Spur the Creation of Jobs in the Transportation and Warehousing Sector that Benefitted Black Workers without College Degrees?
Project Organizations: John Jay College, City University of New York
Principal Investigator: Michelle Holder
Michelle Holder will lead a study examining whether the postpandemic transportation and warehousing sector has created more job opportunities for Black workers without college degrees, and whether those jobs are durable, quality jobs with respect to wages, working conditions, and risks of automation and displacement. Dr. Holder may also engage workers from this sector to provide greater context and examine potential implications for shaping accessible, durable, and quality jobs and working conditions. This project will provide key evidence for understanding whether and how current labor market conditions are creating opportunity for workers who have historically been left behind.
Increasing Hispanic Workers’ Access to Paid Family and Medical Leave
Project Organizations: The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, UnidosUS
Principal Investigators: Pamela Joshi, Dolores Acevedo-Garcia, Susanna Barragan
A research team led by Brandeis University and UnidosUS will undertake a rigorous qualitative study that (1) identifies state paid family medical leave (PFML) policy implementation processes that facilitate or exclude Hispanic and immigrant workers’ participation; and (2) assesses PFML access and uptake from the perspectives of Hispanic community-based organizations, workers, and small business owners in California, Massachusetts, and New Mexico. The project’s findings will generate in-demand evidence on how to design public and private PFML programs that are more inclusive and more accessible to Hispanic workers and small businesses, and that minimize administrative burden. The team will leverage the Brandeis team’s policy analysis expertise and UnidosUS’s strong network and relationships to ensure findings reflect the lived experiences of the populations this project seeks to serve, and to ensure findings are broadly disseminated to audiences positioned to advocate for and implement change.
WorkRise is a research-to-action network focused on jobs, workers, and mobility hosted by the Urban Institute. WorkRise seeks to create a more equitable and resilient labor market that expands opportunity and strengthens economic mobility for low-wage workers. WorkRise pursues its mission by investing in research on promising practices, programs, and policies aimed at creating economic security and mobility for workers, particularly Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people; women; immigrants; and others facing historic and structural disadvantage. WorkRise convenes stakeholders across siloes to develop data-driven solutions for leaders in the private and public sector to implement and scale in order to transform the lives of workers and families.