Evidence and Ideas for Change What it will take to ensure quality jobs for all workers?
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As the nature and organization of work rapidly evolve, what would it take to ensure that all people have quality jobs in the future? The Urban Institute dug into this question over the past several months with employers, philanthropies, advocates, and public-sector leaders. In our fifth Catalyst brief, we spotlight innovative strategies these agents of change are exploring to address the complexities of shifting labor markets. We also identify areas where new data and analytic tools would help them advance their bold ideas.
Many of today’s workers find themselves in a precarious position. Advances in technology, automation, and artificial intelligence could eliminate some jobs while creating others. Global competition and new technologies are causing some large employers to restructure their operations through outsourcing or franchising. And an increasing share of people work as temporary employees, as independent contractors, or in “gig” jobs—without the benefits and protections associated with traditional employment.
But we can envision a future in which every worker can earn family-sustaining wages and have access to better benefits. We can imagine healthy work environments where workers are protected and where their input strengthens productivity and innovation. We see these innovations improving job quality for all while fueling higher productivity for businesses and national economic growth.
Leaders in business, government, philanthropy, and advocacy are already exploring solutions aimed at ensuring that more 21st-century workers have quality jobs: 


  • Increase effective wages.
  • Improve access to benefits.
  • Strengthen workplace protections standards.
  • Boost employee engagement.
  • Create flexible public policies to help workers weather unexpected job changes. 

And as today’s innovators seek fresh approaches to improving job quality, they’re hungry for reliable evidence to design, implement, and weigh the costs and trade-offs of their ideas. With their help, Urban experts identified the following areas where more information would help changemakers accelerate their bold solutions:

  • Identify ways technology can improve job quality by analyzing how it’s being applied and the effects for workers and businesses.
  • Estimate the impact of new benefit and workplace standards using a consistent set of metrics to reveal trade-offs between alternative strategies.
  • Monitor workplace standards and compliance efforts at the national, state, and industry level to advance effective practices.
  • Catalog strategies to expand worker engagement to learn how best to increase employee participation in efforts to improve job quality.
  • Estimate the impact and cost of job guarantee proposals to understand how different designs can achieve specific goals.
  • Gather reliable data on nonstandard work arrangements to target solutions for improving job quality. 

As always, I look forward to your reactions to our job quality Catalyst brief, one of eight timely topics Urban experts are exploring for our Next50 initiative—a yearlong effort generously supported by the Citi Foundation. There’s so much more to come, including next week on May 15, when Urban will bring together leaders from an array of sectors for our Next50 Changemaker Forum. I hope you’ll join one or both of our plenary discussions via live webcast—stay tuned here for more information.

Philanthropy and equitable cities: Hear what Kresge Foundation president Rip Rapson has to say about philanthropy’s role in making cities more equitable in the latest episode of our Critical Value podcast.

Research Areas Workforce
Tags Job quality and workplace standards Job markets and labor force