Today’s economy is at a crossroads. Far too many of our neighbors and families face challenges connecting to quality work, starting businesses, and building assets and stability. For women and people of color these challenges are particularly acute. At the same time, the field of people working to expand economic opportunities for low- and moderate-income workers and their families is immensely broad, and the strategies being pursued are numerous. As we turn the page to 2018, we should consider not so much which of these strategies are best, but rather, how to create synergies across them to get the effective and systemic solutions we so desperately need.
Too often different strategies are seen as competing ideas, rather than as potential complements. For example, people often debate whether to pursue strategies to improve the education and skills of low- and moderate-income workers versus providing updated worker protections to ensure fair pay, health, and safety versus highlighting the success of enlightened business leaders that have win-win-win business models. Many argue vehemently for one while seeing little role for the others.
My sense is that these approaches all have important roles. Enlightened business leadership can go further when a set of standards — that match our values about work and are agreed to in law — reduces the risk of being undercut by a low-road competitor. Education and training investments go further when enlightened business leaders create avenues of communication so that they can design jobs — in content, task load, schedules, compensation, supervision, and more — that engage and encourage workers to use the skills they have and to continue learning on the job.
To expand economic opportunities, we need to pursue many strategies at the same time.
To expand economic opportunities, we need to pursue many strategies at the same time. We need to support children and support children’s parents at work. We need to improve the quality of jobs for low- and moderate-income workers and increase the opportunities for workers to build skills and credentials in order to ascend career ladders. We need to collaborate with employers and workers’ rights advocates. We need to build income and assets for low- and moderate-income workers and their families. These strategies are reinforcing; pursuing them simultaneously is necessary to achieve greater and sustainable change.
Strategies focused on policy, business practice, education and training, social supports, access to credit, and more can be complementary, rather than competing. But it takes intentionality and hard work to make it happen. It will be essential for leaders pursuing these strategies to attend to breaking down silos, bridging ideas, and connecting fields of practice to progress toward an inclusive economy. It will be essential for researchers to build connection — understanding not only whether individual policies or programs work, but to explore the connections between and among them and how they contribute toward improved economic systems. It will be essential for policymakers and investors to consider the incentives that unlock the potential synergies among different strategies.
The economic challenges we face are complex. Conducting business as usual can help, but only yields incremental progress. Here’s my forecast. In 2018, practitioners and other innovative leaders will show the way. We all need to be on the look out to lift up and learn from these new leaders and integrated models.
Strategies focused on policy, business practice, education and training, social supports, access to credit, and more can be complementary, rather than competing. But it takes intentionality and hard work to make it happen.
It will be essential for leaders pursuing strategies to expand economic opportunities to attend to breaking down silos, bridging ideas, and connecting fields of practice to progress toward an inclusive economy.