By Patrick Duggan
In today’s economy, the prevalence of quality jobs is diminishing. This has been the case since America’s job market bottomed out at the close of the Great Recession.
There’s a lot of political rhetoric around Americans being “back at work” and our economy having “regained its strength,” but the truth of the matter is that only profits for wealthy investors have been revived while a slew of policies and programs that benefit large corporations have been enacted at the expense of working people and local business.
Though former President Barack Obama claimed to have created over 15 million jobs from 2010 through the end of his presidency and unemployment has dropped below 5 percent, the average American worker is struggling to make ends meet. Almost half of workers in the U.S. make less than $15 per hour — women and people of color are the worst off.
Most jobs created over the last decade have been temporary, precarious or in low-wage occupations at places like strip malls and fast-food restaurants. In some instances, entire towns have been skipped over entirely.
It’s true that some companies are recognizing that intentionally focusing on quality jobs generates positive outcomes for workers and for their bottom lines. These are jobs that provide living wages, good benefits, paid sick time, retirement and family leave. They reduce employee turnover, create higher employee productivity and satisfaction.
However, those companies are in the minority, and our jobs problem is too large and complex for individual businesses and investors to confront entirely on their own. While businesses are the sources of job creation,
The good news is that Congress doesn’t need to start from scratch on this. They can take much-needed action now, by making small changes to a slate of bipartisan, commonsense federal policies and programs already in place and already working. Congress can adjust or expand them to improve the wages, benefits and workplaces of millions of American workers, create more economic opportunity and more middle-class jobs in communities that have been left behind by globalization, automation, or generations of discrimination.
In a recent report, we identified five of these programs that could be slightly adjusted to offer new financial incentives for quality job creators; increase transparency pertaining to the kinds of jobs our tax dollars are subsidizing; and require job quality standards for businesses and investors participating in certain government programs. These are no-brainer changes that Washington should begin implementing in the coming session.
So what are we recommending? The Small Business Administration backs over 63,000 small business loans every year — it’s a minor change to add job-quality provisions to that existing program. We can incentivize banks and businesses to invest in American workers by having them include job quality in their existing lending requirements, tax credits and public reporting. We can use the government’s own purchasing power to create quality jobs by prioritizing quality-job-creating companies when awarding new government contracts.
The lack of quality employment opportunities in America, particularly for low-income people, communities of color, immigrants, women and workers in towns hollowed out by globalization is a driver of widening inequality in our country. Our research shows that public policy must be part of the solution. It’s absolutely critical to encourage and support the growth of businesses that create quality jobs and strengthen our local economies.
Our government sets the rules for how our financial markets work — and whether or not those markets serve wealthy investors or if they empower businesses to invest in creating quality jobs for working people. There’s no reason for our representatives in Washington not to double-down on market-based solutions that are already working.
Creating quality jobs for working people in every community across America is one goal everyone can agree on. Doing so by making bipartisan government programs that are already working do even more for us is a recipe for success that all elected representatives can champion.
Patrick Duggan is the director of Pacific Community Ventures, a nonprofit that provides small business loans, small business advice and mentors and impact investing consulting services.