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Take Action Now to Create a More Inclusive Future of Work In California

With vaccines shining a light at the end of the tunnel, economic recovery is top of mind. The future of work is a pressing concern, whether you’ve been relatively secure working from home, supporting us all as an essential worker, or unemployed and struggling to stay housed and feed the family.

To chart a path forward, the State of California’s Future of Work Commission report is hot off the presses this week. Instead of a long laundry list of recommendations, it sets out some ‘moonshot’ goals to inspire innovation and create a more inclusive economy.

The Commission calls on California to lead the country by doing what it takes to make the future of work equitable and inclusive across race, gender, geography, and industry. The Report’s moonshots are to:

  • Make Golden State jobs the national ‘gold standard’ by providing livable incomes and family friendly working conditions that demonstrate how much we value all workers– not just those at the top; and
  • Ensure that the economy includes those who have been left out, discriminated against, and undervalued by investing in training and supports, and explicitly in employment social enterprises (ESEs).

To make the case, the Report outlines in painful and specific detail that, “While California boasts a strong and vibrant economy by most measures of growth, too many Californians have not fully participated in or enjoyed the benefits of the state’s broader economic success and the extraordinary wealth generated here, especially low-wage workers and workers of color who are disproportionately represented in low-wage industries.”

We learned a lot about California’s economy from the testimony of workers, business owners, and academics. The statistic that stuck with me is the stark truth that, “33 percent of California’s workers make less than $15 per hour” in a State where the gap between incomes and housing prices has turned into a chasm — since 2012 nominal wages grew by 14 percent while home prices increased by 68 percent! For a single person with no dependents, earning $15/hour or less is at least 20% below a living wage, and for someone with even one child, noting that the majority of those earning below $15/hour are women, this falls short by more than 60%.

And the harsh disparities impact some more than others: “Workers face inequalities across race, gender, age, education level, sexual orientation, disability status, military service history, housing status, citizenship status, and criminal record. Working people of color are over three times more likely than white workers to live in poverty.”

What do we do about it? The Commission calls for job creation, workforce development, and employment access for those excluded in the past. To get there, it calls for the creation of 1 million new quality climate-related jobs, doubling down on entrepreneurship training in higher education, and a ‘jobs guarantee’ for all who want to work by the federal government. And the Report urges that workers play a greater role in advocating for themselves through traditional unions and other kinds of emerging organizations (for example, the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the One Fair Wage campaign).

And the Report makes a clarion call to: “Extend financial and technical assistance to mission-oriented businesses, referred to as employment social enterprises, which provide access to training and employment specifically to groups who face high barriers to work.”

Why does the Report focus on ESEs?

  • They offer a path toward greater racial equity because they provide paid on-the-job training, and support, like housing or legal assistance, to the people who have been most deeply impacted by racial bias in housing, employment, and the criminal justice system, and by disinvestment in quality job training linked to quality jobs in the mainstream economy; and
  • They create and provide access to jobs explicitly for people with diverse talents who have much to contribute but are overcoming high barriers as they return home from incarceration and homelessness, and get stuck in a cycle of unemployment and poverty.

Implementation, of course, is what ultimately will distinguish and make meaningful the results of the Commission’s hard work to craft the Report. The Co-chairs are clear that: “The work to turn recommendations into realities will require commitment and action from all stakeholders coming together…”.

So, let’s get to work! We can ensure employment social enterprises are a mainstay by supporting the  Report’s strong and clear call for investment in these special businesses. We can support initiatives like SB 779, authored by ESE supporter Senator Josh Becker, an important first step that defines ESEs in State law.

The California Future of Work Commission chose to make an inspirational call to Californians to develop an economy that works not only for those who have reaped the rewards in the past, but for all of us.

We call on our ESE community and allies who believe in a more inclusive and equitable economy to mobilize now to take our work to scale! It’s time to challenge ourselves to do what it takes to grow and serve many more people, to achieve racially equitable results for those we serve, and to connect with apprenticeships and employers that compensate, support, and train their frontline workforce.

We call on the State legislature, California philanthropy, local governments, and the business community to partner with us to create a future of work that embraces and rewards the talents and contributions of all Californians by investing capital, increasing procurement, and providing the technical assistance required to build this vibrant and vital sector! Onward!

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