Introducing WorkRise: Rebuilding our labor market for the better

October 5, 2020

Dear Changemakers,

I’m thrilled to let you know about a major new Urban Institute research-to-action initiative that I believe will be a powerful resource for changemakers striving to meet the challenges of economic mobility and racial equity at this historic moment for our country. It’s called WorkRise, an effort aimed at identifying, testing, and sharing bold ideas for transforming the labor market so it better provides economic mobility for workers with low incomes, especially Black and other people of color, women, and young people. I encourage you to join us on October 13 as we launch WorkRise with a week-long public conversation series about how to rebuild our economy while centering these workers.

People of color, women, and young workers have faced systemic obstacles to wage growth and career advancement, as well as the dignity that comes from having autonomy over their own lives and the sense of being valued by their communities. This year, America has finally seen and honored these essential workers, who, for far too long, have been invisible. But even as we celebrate them, many also remain at the greatest risk of job loss, wage cuts, illness, and even death from working during the COVID-19 crisis.

Sadly, the pandemic has laid bare the long-standing inequities so many workers face. For too long, the barriers to opportunity they endure have been treated as the result of individual failure, rather than consequences of historical and structural disadvantages and discriminatory practices: occupational segregation, mass incarceration, discrimination in hiring and promotion, the decline in union membership, and the weakening of other forms of worker protections. These forces have led to significant and persistent disparities in earnings and wages (even among workers with higher educational attainment), employment rates, and upward economic and occupational mobility.

The devastating consequences of the pandemic demand we rebuild our labor market and our economy for the better—advancing racial and gender equity and providing real pathways to opportunity for young people. And that’s at the heart of WorkRise, which has its roots in the US Partnership on Mobility from Poverty. The partnership was a multiyear collaboration between Urban and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, whose partners concluded that real economic mobility requires a labor market that allows workers to maximize their skills and talents and rewards them fairly for their efforts.

Thanks to the generous support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, the Walmart Foundation, the Cognizant U.S. Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and other philanthropic partners, WorkRise will fund research on these promising practices, policies, and programs underway across the country, as well as foundational research on labor market trends, to give decisionmakers the evidence they need to accelerate more equitable and effective policy and practice. WorkRise expects to make approximately $8 million in grants to research partners—based at Urban and other research institutions across the country—to develop evidence on what works.

To ensure the research and evidence created will help changemakers design and refine relevant, practical, and scalable solutions, Urban has assembled an extraordinary group of cross-sectoral leaders to join the WorkRise leadership board. The board will guide the project and set the broad project agenda and research priorities. And to ensure the insights from this robust experiment are learned quickly and widely, WorkRise will partner with stakeholders across the policy and practice ecosystem to learn from, and inform, their efforts in real time.

I hope you will take a moment to learn more about WorkRise and participate in our upcoming conversation series. You may also stay up to date on our efforts by subscribing to the WorkRise Insights newsletter.

As always, I welcome your thoughts about this exciting new initiative at Urban.

Warmly,
Sarah


In case you missed it…
Promoting an inclusive recovery: We will likely spend a decade recovering from the COVID-19 recession, and we have a choice about what kind of recovery we pursue. In a new series called Inclusive Recovery Insights, Erika Poethig, Urban vice president and chief innovation officer, discusses how American cities and communities, in their response to the pandemic, can reimagine their economic growth in more equitable ways, centering the contributions of historically excluded residents. I encourage you to subscribe to Erika’s limited series and join this important conversation. Learn more here.