At a time when millions of Americans remain unemployed, underemployed and out of the labor force entirely, public debate has correctly focused on job creation. With more than four jobseekers for every single job opening, the nation’s deep jobs deficit must be urgently addressed.

But the availability of jobs, while critical, is not enough. To realize the core American value that hard work should be rewarded, we need more jobs capable of supporting a family with a decent standard of living. Nearly a quarter of working adults find themselves in jobs that do not pay enough to support a family at a minimally acceptable level. Millions of workers who are putting in more hours of work than ever find it impossible to ascend to the middle class— or are unable to stay there. The recession widened the already growing earnings shortfall: during the downturn, 60 percent of U.S. jobs lost were middle-income positions, yet the majority of jobs gained during the recovery have been in low-wage occupations. This downward shift in labor costs has helped drive corporate profits to an all-time high this year, but at an enormous cost to our families’ well-being and to our consumer-driven recovery.

In this brief, we explore a variety of strategies government, communities, and far-sighted employers can pursue to raise job quality and ensure that hard-working Americans can get ahead.


What Government Can Do

  • Raise the floor for all employees through legislation requiring that workers be paid a higher minimum wage, and receive non-wage benefits, such as sick leave, paid family leave, and more control over their work schedules.
  • Enact legislation more effectively protecting the right of workers to bargain collectively for improved wages and benefits.
  • Enforce current laws more effectively.
  • Extend legal protections to all workers by abolishing exemptions for farm and domestic workers from current labor law.
  • Use government’s contracting relationships to leverage better employment practices from private sector firms from which it purchases goods and services.
  • Improve and expand worker training programs that help workers gain skills needed for higher-paying positions.

What Employers Can Do

  • Offer higher wages and benefits.
  • Create career ladders in their firms.
  • Expand employee stock ownership and incentive compensation beyond executives to the majority of workers.

What Communities Can Do

  • Use techniques like community benefits agreements to pressure businesses receiving public subsidies and contracts to improve job quality.