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An Equity Dashboard for California’s Workforce

Employment social enterprise proponents offered ample fresh ideas about catalytic policies during a Town Hall that I convened with fellow Commissioner Maria Salinas, the CEO of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, to provide formal input to the California Future of Work Commission as it heads toward completion of a report to the Governor to meet a May 1 deadline.

The central issue Commissioners have zeroed in on is how to create more “good jobs” for all Californians across the employment landscape — from childcare providers to technology workers. These jobs would provide incomes and benefits sufficient to enable most Californians to afford the basics of life — housing, health, education. Good jobs would also provide reasonable commute distances, predictable shifts, the opportunity for workers to be heard, and other conditions that provide the independence and security to workers to be engaged members of their families and our communities.

The Commission is assessing what mix of “carrots” – incentives, and “sticks”– penalties, will make California ground zero for good jobs.

At our last meeting, Mayor Tubbs, the innovative leader of the City of Stockton, testified. He started by noting that after speaking with a couple of Commissioners the night before, he started thinking about the morality and values that would characterize a more equitable economic future. He decided to read some Greek philosophy (!) which led him to urge us to recognize that dignity is inherent — something we should associate with each individual regardless of their employment status; and that work, as a complement, should offer both the fundamentals for a decent quality of life, and a meaningful way to contribute with purpose.

For the employment social enterprise community, the critical issues are equity and inclusion. We want to make sure that good jobs are equally available to people who have faced significant challenges such as incarceration, foster care, homelessness, lack of access to quality education, etc. And these individuals demographically― due to historical factors like redlining, criminal justice policies, and persistent racial discrimination in employment and housing―include a high percentage of people of color.

A Town Hall participant suggested a powerful way to frame and hold ourselves accountable for the changes. The State of California should be the first in the nation to create an equity dashboard for the workforce of the future.

This would allow us all – policymakers, employers, and the public – to evaluate, over time, the change in the proportion of good jobs going to individuals by race, gender, histories of incarceration or homelessness, housing prices, and place (e.g. where people live). By making this data transparent and public, the Equity Dashboard for the State would allow citizens, policymakers, investors, employers, and others to prioritize and innovate to drive change.

The top five recommendations from the Town Hall that would spur social enterprise growth, and a better life for the people social enterprises employ, include:

  1. Local investment and bid preferences. Regional and local economic development, job creation, human services/safety net, justice, health, and workforce initiatives should invest in scaling up social enterprises; and state and local governments should establish a bid preference for companies that buy and/or hire from social enterprises.
  2. Hiring. Create a tax credit at the state level for private-sector hiring of people coming from social enterprises and targeted state and local government hiring programs that streamline the application process for people who face higher barriers (e.g., histories of homelessness, incarceration, foster care, etc.), and eliminate or change educational requirements that are not explicitly (with evidence) job-related.
  3. Apprenticeships. Expand the use of apprenticeship models in social enterprise – food industry, modular housing, etc. As an example, the one that Kitchens for Good has established. The food industry is a great example of a segment of the economy that hires more people overcoming various barriers
  4. Small organizations, special organizations; hybrids – for profits and nonprofits. California is a large state. When we make policy, we want impact on large numbers of people across a huge geography. This can leave out smaller organizations. But these entities are often the backbone of meaningful change, with aggregated impact that shows how powerful they are. As just one example, 36 % of California’s employees work for firms that employ 100 people or less. Also, tax status as a measure of social benefit is becoming outmoded. Nonprofits may be so large and entrenched that their social mission has dimmed; and for profits may be structured to maximize public benefit. There are new legal entities like “Benefit” corporations that seek to balance profitability with social contribution. Social enterprises fall into both categories. Policies should include smaller entities, nonprofits, for profits, and other emerging company types.
  5. Economic inclusion. The Town Hall agreed that we need to do more to improve the quality of jobs in California, while also setting explicit objectives to include people otherwise left out of the economy.
    1. Criminal justice. We must address the large number of workers in California that have had contact with the justice system (a criminal record, or under court supervision). We need a comprehensive look at the barriers and policies, from certifications and licensing to insurance, that may bias employers against hiring individuals with a criminal record, as well as the racial prejudice impacting them due to the well-documented racial bias of the criminal justice system.
    2. Homelessness. We are also confronted by a skyrocketing homeless population – a consequence of wages not keeping up with housing costs, racial discrimination in housing, and the failure to invest in affordable housing development near job centers; with a growing number of people who have become homeless for the first time after age 50 due in part to job loss. In addition to ensuring that all wages are sufficient to afford housing within a reasonable commute distance, and investing in the development of affordable housing, we need to consider targeted programs that prevent homelessness when workers are laid off by immediately placing them in jobs with support for retraining, as needed, while stabilizing their housing.

As the workforce evolves and changes, we have an opportunity to dismantle and pull apart some of the policy-based, and sometimes unintended barriers that are causing high levels of recidivism to prison and jail, and a revolving door to homelessness, while catalyzing the dramatic growth of entities like employment social enterprises that keep people employed.

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