Ask Us Anything: Racial Equity and the Future of Workforce Development
Event Q & A
Challenging Structural Racism in Workforce Development
What are the most important types of policy changes—economic, health, social or political—as we move into a reimagined labor market?
Workforce development is economic development, so in thinking about policies, it is important to think about them holistically rather than in silos. We encourage policymakers to consider the needs of an entire person and an entire community when reimagining services and supports. The ALICE data set by United Way (acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) helps highlight the challenges working adults face and quantify the number of households that are struggling financially—those earning above the federal poverty level but not enough to afford a bare-bones household budget. If your state partners with United Way on this effort, you can connect with staffers who are using, analyzing, and contributing to this data set to understand ways that state and local policies can better support this working population.
How does the workforce development system avoid reinforcing employer biases as it seeks to meet demand from companies?
The workforce system can move beyond systemic and systemized racism with a three-stage process: awareness, acceptance, and action. We are always becoming aware of challenges specific communities, particularly Black communities, face. We have to accept that those challenges are in fact problems that involve the design of the system rather than a quality of the population. Finally, the workforce system must take action to right any wrongs that have been identified.
What role should workforce development play and what tools should the system deploy to change employer hiring practices?
First, workforce boards should examine how they treat their own employees. While workforce boards fight for the rights of workers, they often undervalue their employees, particularly those on the frontline. Implementing procedures that foster racial equity will position workforce boards to be able to share policies that work and give suggestions to employers.
It is important to take a carrot-and-stick approach, employing both reward and punishment, to induce employer cooperation. Workforce boards can demand certain things from their partners. Employers that receive public funds need to be held to a higher standard and asked to give details on items such as benefits, compensation of workers, and whether the company has a diverse decision-making team. Workforce boards need to be aware that such demands may unfortunately result in lost partnerships, as some employers may not be willing to work on creating a more inclusive environment.
It is also essential to communicate that equitable policies can be good for a company’s bottom line and enhance retention and training of new employees. Presenting a business case for paying higher wages and treating workers better makes it easier to persuade timid companies or organizations to change their policies.
How can workforce practitioners challenge employers to address the systemic inequalities that exist for workers?
Workforce boards need to become comfortable with the uncomfortable. They need to understand that to effect real changes, they have to push employers to support their intentions to build racial equity with actions. Employers may be motivated by different factors. Some employers may fear losing partnerships with workforce development systems and may therefore be willing to make changes, others may want to lead their sector on the issue, while others might be moved by a business imperative. If employers are not motivated to change their practices, workforce boards need to stand up for the workers they represent.
What makes an employer inclusive?
An inclusive employer fosters a company culture that allows people to bring their authentic selves to the workplace without adapting to white norms. Such employers are transparent about recruiting and promoting practices and how they pay their employees, including breaking out such data by race. The use of skills-based promotions and hiring can enhance productivity and employee engagement. If companies set specific criteria for promotions, then employees can work toward them without fear of being passed up because of implicit racism.
Inclusive companies will likely offer other benefits in addition to good pay that show value for their employees as people. Other actions that signal inclusivity include investing in training or benefits for employees or bonuses for executives and partnerships with community organizations. A company committed to diversity and inclusion will focus on the outcomes of its policies, rather than how they are perceived.
How can workforce systems build worker power or organize workers in the 21st century economy?
Workforce boards can use their connections and organizing power. They have the ability to convene and organize groups of workers so that their voices can be heard.
Policies Regarding Upskilling
How can WIOA [the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act] be used to re-employ the large number of people who are still out of work due to COVID-19?
One way to use WIOA, the federal law that provides services such as skill assessments, career counseling and planning, prevocational services, job referrals, and placement services, is to provide earn-and-learn opportunities such as apprenticeships that guarantee wage increases once a particular competency is achieved. This option can also address retirements, another issue facing the labor market. Institutional knowledge is lost when workers retire, but apprenticeships can reduce that knowledge loss by passing information from seasoned workers to new ones.
States could also add training benefits to unemployment policies. Not all states allow workers who have lost their jobs to collect unemployment compensation if they are in school or training. This limitation hurts workers’ ability to learn additional skills and become re-employed in jobs with higher wages.
How do workforce development systems manage the tension between critical jobs that provide a higher wage (but require greater skills) and accessible jobs? How can we advocate for accessible jobs to provide a living wage?
Workforce development boards and employers should re-examine educational and skill requirements, considering whether their jobs truly require an associate or bachelor’s degree. There is a need to recognize and value the existing skills that individuals possess and to do a better job identifying skills that can be applied across multiple sectors. Another option is to consider placing workers in competency-based apprenticeships to fill jobs that require additional skills.
For more resources on jobs that pay above the national median wage but require less than a bachelor’s degree in your area, check out the recently updated Opportunity Occupations Monitor, developed by the Atlanta Fed’s Center for Workforce and Economic Opportunity. This tool could be used as a resource by workforce boards to steer workers into fields with strong career growth paths and sustainable wages.
Race and the Labor Market
How can private organizations be champions for racial equity in substantial ways?
Companies can be transparent about practices and outcomes to hold themselves accountable and show their commitment to racial equity. This means that companies should not only break down their wage data by race, but they should also share those outcomes. The same applies to EEOC (Equal Opportunity Employment Commission) data. Companies should also analyze and publish their hiring practices, specifically as it relates to diversity and inclusion.
How can majority white organizations be more open to the Black community in their efforts to promote diverse and inclusive leadership?
These organizations need to start by understanding the ways in which they have perpetuated harmful narratives and racial inequities before attempting to build trust with the Black community. There seems to be a desire for organizations to want Black and indigenous communities and other people of color to share their experiences, often leading to sympathy but not action by the organization. The white groups should hire a consultant to support their internal learning journey. Once companies have done the work themselves, they can set up conversations with the Black community, examining historical impacts, their commitment to show up differently, and ideas on how to change. Finally, they can seek feedback from the community to authentically engage and work toward racial equity.
Since a number of employment-related policies are needed to reverse inequality, what do we need for income policies?
There is a need to address some important issues to mitigate inequality. Workforce practitioners and employers need to be honest about the cost of living and how it is reflected in federal poverty measures. There are opportunities to change policy, including increasing the minimum wage and altering financial limits on benefits to prevent benefits cliffs which keep people in cycles of poverty. The Atlanta Fed has been examining this issue in its work on Advancing Careers.
What role have worker unions played in the disparity of earnings, particularly as we have seen union representation decrease?
When workers initially gained the right to organize, Black workers were barely represented by unions. However, unions began to integrate in the 1960s, which gave some protection to Black workers from discrimination. Unionization boosted wages for Black men and decreased the wage gap between Black and white workers within a sector. Since the mid-1980s, unionization has been declining. Research from Bill Rodgers and others suggest that the decline in unionization is helping to exacerbate the Black-white wage gap, particularly for new entrants to the labor market.
Do you think inequity is more pronounced in the rural Black Belt region of the South?
During the 1980s, the Black-white earnings gap was about 18 percent to 20 percent in the South. But in the Midwest, there were roughly equal earnings between Black and white workers. By the end of the decade though, the Midwest earnings disparity had increased and nearly matched the disparity in the South. Over time, there has been a convergence toward the South’s historical earnings disparity.
How can economists change their research methods to bring meaningful analysis around unequal effects of economic policy?
While researchers have made progress in breaking down and reporting data by race, they sometimes fail to explain reasons for data disparities. Using disaggregated data helps reveal the different situations people find themselves in based on their race. However, economists often stop at pointing out that there is a difference between races and fail to challenge the reason why those differences exist. For example, economists often find that a college education of a white person gets a higher return (i.e., higher earnings) in the labor market than a college education of a Black person. This would be identified as discrimination, but research would often fail to identify the reasons this happens or even acknowledge the different relationships Black and white people have with the education system.
Stuart Andreason: I want to welcome you to the Atlanta Fed Center for Workforce and Economic Opportunity's Ask Us Anything. Today, we're really lucky to have the guests that we do, and today we're going to be talking about racial equity and the future of workforce development, the role that workforce development plays in promoting and can play in promoting racial equity and equitable recovery and an inclusive recovery.
I want to just start and say a couple of things. In April, we reached nearly 15 percent unemployment. We as a country have not had an unemployment rate near that level since the 1940s. The last time that we had an unemployment rate higher than that, we actually passed the Social Security Act in 1935. That brought us much of the unemployment and social insurance system that we use today, and we're at an economic condition that we haven't seen in quite some time.
At the same time, the country's really beginning to grapple with a long history and challenges that we've had with race, and we've never looked to grapple with those challenges at the same time that we're dealing with such a large economic challenge, and we need to do those things together. I'd just like to highlight that we're really interested in and focused on this, and I think that it's really something that we're learning about and looking to figure out how we can engage in at the Atlanta Fed.
But we broadly think that there's a moral and economic imperative that we do things correctly and that we think about how we use this moment. Not think of it as two major challenges that we face, but a major opportunity that we have. Our president, Rafael Bostic, a couple of weeks ago called the moment that we face today and the challenges that we face one where we have a moral and economic imperative to resolve issues of race and racial inequity.
I'm going to turn it now to my colleague Sarah Miller, who's going to talk a little bit about the structure for today. For those of you all that have been on these before, we welcome your questions and we'll move to discussion soon, but I'll turn it over to Sarah to talk about our structure and our guests today. Sarah, thanks so much.
Sarah Miller: Great. Yeah, thanks Stu, and thanks for kicking us off. Just to echo Stu, for those of you who have joined us before and are back in this virtual room with us, welcome. We appreciate you lending your voice and your insights to these ongoing discussions. We're going to use our time a little bit differently here today and not subject you to any PowerPoint slides, so I hope that that is a welcome reprieve for the conversation.
As Stu mentioned, we are critically focused on this issue as a moral and economic imperative and our objective to help to push the field to return to a normal that's better than our prepandemic conditions. It will take new thinking, it will take critical thinking and certainly take the voices like those that we have on the call with us here today. So, I'm very pleased to have this conversation joined by Bill Rodgers, the professor and chief economist for the Heldrich Center, and Claire Minson, the assistant vice president for talent and workforce at the NOLA [New Orleans] Business Alliance.
I'm sure you've seen both of their recent op-eds on this topic. [They are] very important voices to have around the table, so please get your questions ready, share your thoughts, share your insights. Please do use the Q&A button down there at the bottom. As always with these standing sessions, we're recording this. We will send you a recording, we'll follow up with some post-session materials and other resources for you to have at your disposal as well as kind of the transcript of all the questions and answers, both submitted that we can address today and those that we may not have time to get to. An hour is certainly not even nearly enough time to even begin to discuss some of the challenges that our system has faced and will continue to face, but we encourage you to drop as many through to us on the Q&A as possible.
Just as a tee-up for our next session, which will be held on August 26 at 2 p.m., we're going to focus on childcare as a key priority to community development. We'll actually be joined by one of our own, by the Atlanta Fed's Brittany Birken, who's a specialist on childcare and child development. She will be joined by her two colleagues in the state of Florida to talk about really how that state worked together around the intersection and alignment of childcare, workforce, and economic development.
But to our conversation here today, the way that we're going to break this out is that we'll start with Bill as the economist to really provide this macro frame of racial inequities on the longstanding disparities in the labor market for minority workers and specifically for Black communities. Then we'll transition over to Claire Minson to talk from a more regional perspective on how to galvanize this work in a community and to build that coalition of the willing around racial equity and using that inclusion as the lens through which we do all of our work around workforce development.
But to kick off, we're going to start with Bill. As I mentioned, Bill is the professor and chief economist at the Heldrich Center. He's also a senior research affiliate at the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan. He served as the chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor from 2000 to 2001, appointed by Secretary [Alexis] Herman, in addition to many other elected and appointed positions related to social insurance and pension benefits.
His research really does focus on those issues in labor economics and economics of social problems and certainly now, around the current job loss and recovery as it pertains to the employment of Americans. I hope you were all able to read some of his words in the piece that he put out really around the disproportionate aspect of Black Americans as it relates to unemployment and to how they've been feeling all recessions, but certainly this recession; and the crisis has really caused some profound uneven effects in a far quicker manner than we've seen in any other recessions.
Even as recently in June, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, less than half of Black Americans were even employed. So, I'm going to turn it over to Bill to share a macro historical view and help us to think a little bit about what we can learn from the past and what we need to keep in mind as we move into dealing with current and post-COVID economic realities. Bill, welcome.
Bill Rodgers: Sarah, thank you very much. Stu, thank you, too. It's really an honor and privilege to have the opportunity to speak about some work that I've been doing since I was in graduate school. One of the sobering things about it is that the work continues, that many of the issues that I was focused on in the early '90s are the same issues as we are dealing with today. In my 15 minutes, what I want to do is do a quick overview focusing on Black-white inequality, but do a quick overview of that relative status and talk about what are some of the leading continued causes for racial [inaudible] and unemployment inequality. Then I'm going to get into conversations around what do we need to be doing, what do we need to be doing particularly in light of the murder of Mr. [George] Floyd and the various responses that we've seen.
I guess from a standpoint of summarizing relative status, one place to look is the work that Valerie Wilson and I did at the Economic Policy Institute a number of years ago, where we basically found that our conclusion was that the relative status in terms of earnings of Black men was basically what it was in 1979 or is what it was in 1979. But then, however, there's been some other work that's been done by a number of economists who have found when you incorporate incarceration, the large racial differences in incarceration and also labor force exit, the relative status of African Americans really was what it was in 1950.
If you're just focusing on earnings, 1979 relative status; if you incorporate incarceration and the differential exits from the labor force, you're talking about a relative status of about 1950 where we are today. What are some of the causes? Well, a [inaudible] economist or social scientist, lately we've been breaking these up into two broad areas, one we would call race-neutral factors and then the other we would call race-specific factors.
The obvious race-specific factor example would be discrimination or racism. People who have the same skills, are doing the same job—Blacks get paid less or women get paid less. From a standpoint of hiring, you end up seeing that race plays an effect on making it harder for Blacks to get a job offer, to get an interview, to have their resume looked at, and there's been a variety of studies that even looked at where people have used resumes and employers are targeting people based upon their name. If it's an ethnic name, they get pulled out.
Discrimination is still a very important factor that explains why we see these pay differentials, why we see the unemployment rate differentials that you'll continue to see when the new numbers come out on Friday.
Race neutral. What do we mean by race neutral? These are policies particularly that have nothing to do—they're not targeting Blacks, they're not targeting Latinx workers, they're not targeting women—but because of the allocation or the distribution of where Blacks land in the pay scale or in a particular industry that is adversely affected, say, by globalization or by technology, that these can also explain why we've seen an emergence or a re-emergence of Black-white inequality.
For example, in globalization on trade, certain parts of the U.S., the Midwest in particular, were hit hardest by globalization, so the movement of manufacturing factories abroad; and since a disproportionate share of African Americans live in the Midwest, in Detroit and other parts of Michigan, they disproportionately were hurt by those shifts. Part of the growth in earnings inequality during this period of time that Valerie and I studied is not only due to discrimination but also due to the globalization. Again, it has nothing to do per se with being Black or being a woman or being Latinx, but because of this distribution, because of being heavily concentrated in those areas, [there are] adverse effects.
Technology has also been playing a role, particularly the use of robots. Richard Freeman, a colleague of mine, we have a piece that was published last year by the Century Foundation that found that areas that had the greatest robot sensitivity or intensity… were the areas where young Black men with the least amount of education, they bore the brunt or bore a disproportionate share of the brunt of robots coming into those communities.
That's kind of a really quick overview of where we are. Just on the pandemic, … It's particularly hit Black communities or Black workers in a double whammy. One on the economic front, their unemployment rates have risen to over 25, 30 percent, particularly for youth. That is people who are 16 to 24 years of age. It peaked at over 30 percent for young men and women who are 16 to 24 years of age who are Black.
We also saw a jump-up for whites and also other groups. There has been improvement during May and June as states have begun to reopen, but particularly for youth, Black youth, their unemployment rates—our estimates are still well above 20 percent. This is going to be some research that should be coming out in the Century Foundation in the next few weeks that Richard Freeman and Andy Stettner and I have been working on. We're very concerned about these young people, particularly young college graduates, and the very reason is that with this slowdown for this period of time, even though it looks like it's potentially going to be small, but we think the recovery is going to be much slower than people are thinking now that we're having this V-shape. I don't think that's the case.
So, we are starting to see the unemployment rates for adults coming down, but what we've seen in previous recession recoveries is that the unemployment rates and the unemployment population ratios of young people tend to be sticky, particularly for young Black men and women, that they remain elevated. This could potentially represent a major dent into their lifetime income, their future incomes. There's some important policy prescriptions and conversations that we need to have to minimize any kind of future long-term loss in their income and their employment opportunities.
Miller: Thanks, Bill. Lots of great-
Rodgers: Well, and then-
Miller: Yeah, please, go ahead.
Rodgers: Just shifting to some immediate and short-term solutions, one of the problems, and this is something I say in a Russell Sage chapter I did on race and public policy is that, even though there's a desire by us to have a silver bullet, there is no silver bullet. We have to look at a variety of solutions, and the one that's the most important that gets talked about prior to the pandemic is economic growth, economic expansion.
But that's not the full solution to ending racial inequality. It took over 10 years for Black Americans, their incomes to return to what they were prior to the Great Recession. It took over a decade for young men with little experience, for their earnings to catch up to their white counterparts after the 1980s recession.
Institutions are going to play a key role if we're going to reimagine the economy, if we're going to have an inclusive recovery. What we're doing in New Jersey, where I'm serving on Governor [Phil] Murphy's restart-reopening commission, we're pushing the mantra in our approach that public health will create economic health. We have to make sure that workplaces are safe for work and also safe for consumption.
What does that mean? It's making sure that small businesses eventually have access to their PPE and also training for maintaining safe workplaces. The Heroes Act, which hopefully parts of it, more than less, will be implemented as the Senate continues to discuss what they want to do, but it's about really restoring consumer confidence. These are the sort of, again, race neutral types of approaches that we have to partake in order to have an inclusive recovery and also to not sow further seeds of Black-White inequality.
The other big thing on my radar is pushing for state and local support from the federal government. Otherwise, you're going to see another set of essential workers who are going to be furloughed or lose their jobs; and we have to remind ourselves, state and local government is one place where we've continued to see many Black and African Americans and women got their toehold into the middle class. This would mean if we don't fund, we don't support state and local governments, you're going to see an expansion in racial inequality. That's a really imperative part of this conversation.
Childcare and elder care are—again nothing race specific about them, but race neutral. If we don't provide the subsidies, provider expand subsidies or help families with their child and elder care, or other ways of reducing the cost, we're going to have a major problem with regards to expanding inequality. But it's going to be affecting all Americans. So, to conclude, what I want to shift to is people have been talking about, what are antiracist policies? What are policies that will remove racism?
Well, one example, and again I've done some work on monetary policy, and if the Federal Reserve starts to raise interest rates, we do see a disparate impact. African Americans, younger workers, certain industries, they start to see their areas start to slow down faster. Again, there's no animus or racial intent by the Federal Reserve when it conducts monetary policy to create these [inaudible] effects, but everyone has to be aware that there are these disparate impacts.
Just within the last month when the Fed was talking about what they want to use as their targets... If you use the national unemployment rate as your target while the Black unemployment rate is typically going to be twice that, you run into a potential problem that OK, we've now gotten the national unemployment rate to, let's say, 3.5 percent, but the Black unemployment rate is still, let's say, about 7 percent, 8 percent. You've just now put the brakes on how well the economy can be used to address racial inequality. So, there has to be not only the cognizance of what are we using to target and what are the costs associated with targeting—we'll get an elevated Black unemployment rate or certain communities that have large Black populations will not be able to fully benefit from the expansion.
But then, I think you also have to use that evidence, that argument to go back to Congress and be very vocal and willing to say that, "Hey, Congress, you need to now get into the game and play your important role fiscally with regards to policies that can help to improve racial inequality and other types of inequality."
Going forward, just to sort of sum up and we'll talk about this in the conversation, that Black lower economic outcomes or racial inequality, that has a cost to us. That has a cost to society and how does that work? Well, just start with our basic framework that economic growth is equal to productivity growth and population growth. If we are not doing the things that help to make workers in their communities more productive, investing in education, investing in training, making work pay, having a $15 an hour minimum wage brought in over time, helping workers transition after being affected by robots—all of these factors. If we don't do that, we're not going to be maximizing the level of productivity that workers could have, which then could lead to economic growth.
So, our tactics as we are coming out of this, hopefully beginning to come out of this pandemic or at least shifting from recovery into reimagining the economy, we really have to be cognizant and aware and ask the questions. Are the policies we're implementing, are they race neutral in the sense that they benefit everybody and disproportionately benefit those who have suffered from the legacies of discrimination, Jim Crow, and also of slavery. Especially if you start talking about wealth.
Once you start talking about wealth, then I think you do have to have a conversation about reparations and what those kind of things might look like. Thank you, let me stop there.
Miller: Thank you so much, Bill. I really love how you framed the race neutral versus race specific way that we need to look at this, because I think that's kind of a pitfall that we've had throughout our thinking in workforce development writ large, at least in my tenure in the space, is that this rising-tide-lifts-all-ships principle doesn't really bear out in the data when we look at it for certain populations. It is important to consider what are these fundamental, basic needs policies that we have, versus where do we need to take a race-specific lens, especially as it relates to the youth that are now facing a very challenging job market, job prospects, and they're losing not just potential wealth but certainly the critical skills that can get them to these next steps later on in their career and that that's disproportionately felt by folks in minority and certainly Black communities.
Quickly before we shift over to Claire, there was a number of questions that have come in, but I do want to lift one up for us to all think about but then also ask one specifically to you, Bill. One that I would like us all to think about and I think you've laid out a number of different things for us to think through in terms of what are the most important types of policies that we need to think about—economic, health, social, political—that need to happen as we move into a reimagined labor market. Let that just be a thinking frame for both of you.
But in particular, Bill, I wonder... A question came in as to whether or not you've seen or some of the research that you may have done that shows that these disparities for Black communities is more profound in the South and in the Black Belt. That has borne out certainly in some of the data that we've seen already just in terms of unemployment claims in and of itself. Those numbers are significantly higher, proportionate to the Black community's share in the labor force in the South, even more so than it is on national levels. But I don't know if you have any thoughts to add on that, the regionalism of some of these disparities.
Rodgers: Yeah, what's very striking was, and I'll try to be quick on this, is some work that Richard Freeman and I had done and that he and John Bound had done was that during the 1980s, at the start of the 1980s, Black-white earnings inequality was around 18 to 20 percent in the South, southern region, for young, less educated men who are newly entering the labor market. But then when you went to the Midwest, you ended up actually seeing that they were pretty much at parity in the Midwest, but because of some of these globalization and industry shifts, you actually saw by the end of the decade that Black-white inequality, it still stayed at around 18 to 20 percent for these young, less educated workers, but it had expanded from basically parity or zero to about 18 to 20 percent in the Midwest.
What's been interesting is since then, over time, there seems to be this roughly 18 to 20 percent pay differential amongst young, less educated men across regions. There's been at one level [inaudible] some of the work Valerie and I did, there's actually been a convergence. There's been a worsening and a convergence toward what we’ve seen historically in the South. Very disturbing.
Another pattern that's less about region is one, too, that in the early '80s, Black and white college graduates roughly were at parity in terms of earnings between men, but by the end of the decade, that has gone to about 18 to 20 percent or so and it still has stayed very large. That's one reason why I say there's no silver bullet because the challenges for creating racial equality between Black and white college graduates has a very different set of conversations than for young, less educated men.
Miller: Great, and I actually think that's a perfect transition to Claire. Claire has spent a majority of her career working at the intersection of workforce development and racial equity. I think that your point, Bill, is very well taken that there are ways that we have to look at this differently, given the realities within the regions and the communities wherein which we do this work. I'm very excited to have Claire talk about her perspective more from on the ground and catalyzing of momentum and work in different types of thinking with the institutions that are serving our residents, that are hiring our residents, that are helping to actually court them along a career pathway and really enable that economic mobility.
I'm sure most of you on the call, if you haven't, please take a look, but I really loved Claire's comments on a reckoning that we need in the workforce development field and critically looking at ourselves as to how we're maintaining the status quo and not really oppressing on the racial biases and the racial injustice and the ways that we do our work and how the system is set up and what we need to think about for the future. But with that, let me turn it over to Claire Minson.
Claire Minson: Yeah, good afternoon. Thank you, Sarah. Thank you, Stu. I’m happy to be here with you, Bill, and everybody else who is on the call. I think Sarah, you said it correctly. Let me give my disclaimer in the virtual world that we're in, internet is never stable when it should be and so, if my face disappears, my voice will still be with you so do not be dismayed. But like Sarah said, I've spent the majority of my career in workforce development and the last three, almost four, really looking at the intersection of race, racism, and workforce development.
One of the very first things that I had to sit with was what was the role that I played in upholding a system that really perpetuates harmful narratives about communities of color and then ignores the racial dynamic that is very much at play in our societal context and in our systems and in our institutional partners, particularly places of employment.
So, really when Freddie Gray was murdered in Baltimore in 2015 was a moment I had to have my own reckoning, and either I'm going to be in this work and really be honest about what is the work that I'm doing to actually disrupt systemic oppression, either that or I'm not going to be in it, right? I had to make a decision. Then fast forward to George Floyd earlier this summer; it really became another tipping point because I've shared bits and pieces of what I wrote with colleagues around the fact that as workforce development practitioners and folks on the ground providing direct services, we sit at the intersection of funding partners, we sit at the intersection of business partners and employer partners, we sit at the intersection of policymakers and legislators. We sit at the intersection of private practitioners, two-year and four-year institutions.
Then we're supporting the workers themselves, so we're really uniquely positioned, if at all cylinders, we were saying we will no longer continue to operate out of a race neutral position, ignoring the fact that race and racism has an impact on the economic opportunity and economic viability and economic success for people of color and then ultimately for our country at large.
One of the things I felt it was really important to do was just to name the thing explicitly. We have to name the fact that as workforce providers, when we're preparing folks and connecting them to job opportunities within various industries, if we're not naming the fact that IT or construction is a predominantly white male industry and we're sending folks in those industries not having conversations about the fact that their race may impact their career mobility. What does that mean for the skillset that they will need to navigate that institution or that environment to make sure that they're able to retain their employment? Or the fact that they may make a percentage of money less than their white counterparts.
What does that mean for their community? What does that mean for our tax base of our city? There's a very real economic impact when we do not explicitly name the racialized policies and practices that are in the work that we do as workforce practitioners and the ways that we interact with our colleagues and peers.
I want to leave you with a few things and I've laid out, if you've read the piece that I wrote, I've laid out four action steps, but there's always more. This work is about changing systems, but people drive systems and so, if people aren't doing the really hard work of examining the ways in which we as individuals either maintain or disrupt really economically oppressive systems, then we are being complicit in it. If we are not examining the role that our organization is playing, either in the language that we use, we describe the people that we're talking about, or the ways in which we are providing services or structuring our program design or the policies that are without animus. Thank you, Bill, for mentioning that earlier. That are without animus. They have no intent of discriminating, but their impact is one of disproportionately negatively impacting communities of color. So, how do we think about the narrative and the language that we use?
One of the things I talk about all the time is low skills. Let's not get me started on the low skill argument and how racially coded that language is. It doesn't mean that skills aren't important, but we can't negate the context of racism, white supremacy, and the ways in which that impacts the language that we use and who we describe and how we describe them, how we value and then how we pay them in terms of what we think they're worth.
Let's think about our program designs. When I worked with the Associated Black Charities, I created 10 essential questions for workforce development. It's for direct service providers, program directors who are developing program designs to really ask themselves 10 key questions as they think about how am I designing this, am I designing this centering race and centering communities of color, recognizing that the decisions I make in my program design could continue to disproportionately impact certain communities? Therefore, I'm adding to the problem, I'm not reducing the inequities.
What about policies? We talked about that, thinking about policies and/or how you're partnering with advocacy organizations. Many of our organizations are not policy specific, but the work that we're doing and working with individuals directly is really important to getting the voice of the community to policymakers and to legislators to make sure that those voices are centered and honored and valued.
When we think about employer relationships, are we asking for them to disaggregate their wage data? Are we asking them to share with us their culture? What is your workplace culture and how do we know that it's inclusive? Meaning, people can bring their authentic selves to the workplace and they don't have to adapt to the whiteness-framed norms of that organization.
Then when we think about philanthropy and funding, I love many of my funding partners but philanthropy can be a really big problem in the way that we are asked to describe the challenges that the individuals we're serving are facing. We tend to frame them as individually based and not systemically created and designed. How do we think about those funding and those power dynamics that exist with employers and with philanthropy and with other funders?
The last thing I want to add, because I think this is a really critical point and I think Bill mentioned this briefly already, income is not wealth. But if folks aren't making enough money to amass some kind of wealth, to get to a place where they can amass wealth, then we're talking about the generational cycle of poverty that we as workforce providers are continuing if we are not really thinking critically and having conversations about living wages, for example.
Fifteen dollars an hour really should be a minimum, because if you look at the ALICE report [compiled by Rutgers University spotlighting people who work but have little or no savings] and in many instances, when I look at Central Maryland and look at New Orleans, for a family of four, we're talking over $100,000. That is the honest conversation that nobody is having about what it actually costs to live in a country when you think about communities of color and you already know they're making predominantly less, 18 to 20 percent less, we just heard, than their white counterparts.
What are we actually doing as practitioners and providers? Are we really doing the work? Are we standing in the gap in the way that we say that we want to? Or are we just patting ourselves on the back for placing people in a revolving cycle of poverty? I want to pause there.
Miller: Claire, so many amazing points in there and again, if you haven't read her article, I would encourage that you take a look. We'll make sure to get a copy of that out to you. I want to tug on a couple of things that you said there which I think are really critical. First is around this coded language and I think the way that we need to challenge ourselves is to really approach workforce development not just in the way that we talk with the people that we're trying to serve, but how we talk with our community partners from an asset-based language as opposed to a deficit-based language and not leading with what our participants don't have, but what they do have, and what should be of much higher value with our employer partners and our other placement partners. I think that's super, super critical.
Second to that, there was a question that came in really around how do we get beyond the lip service from major industry around their support for Black Lives Matter or for hiring minority communities and really force them to walk the walk that they're talking. I think a couple of the pieces that you laid out help to get to that. Have they disaggregated their wage data? Can we look at their EEOC numbers? Do they have an actual stated diversity and inclusive hiring policy? Are they truly acting on that?
I think that it's important for us to remember as workforce practitioners, those of us on the call that are, that we control the partners that we work with and we can take a look and see whether or not they're really living in their own stated truth and whether or not we want to bring the full strength of our resources behind what we can offer to them. Again, just amazing comments and we have a number of different questions, of which I haven't really been able to get to. Stu, let me swing to you to cherry-pick from here in the discussion.
Andreason: Sure. We've got a couple really great questions. We got a lot of really great questions. One that came up was this interplay between the workforce system and the labor market. I'm interested in both of your thoughts on how the workforce system can help to really reduce bias, especially as the workforce system has really worked to meet employer demand. How do we ensure that the workforce system is challenging and eliminating bias rather than doing that dual customer role and fulfilling exactly what employers need? It's a challenge, but would be interested to hear you guys' thoughts.
Rodgers: Claire, you want to go or want me to take a stab at that first?
Minson: Yeah, I'll let you take a stab first.
Rodgers: Yeah. I think there's several things. One is... I've shared this relative idea to my colleagues on our restart and reopening commission and that is if you're going to be receiving public funding or public support or any kind of public funds, you need to be held to a higher standard and those higher standards could be what are you compensating people, what kind of benefits, if any, are being offered?
Claire mentioned some of those other items, too, around transparency. What kind of policies do you have? Another item that needs to be on there is does the company provide or have all different types of people at the table, at the decision-making table, the adult table, I like to call it, right? Because there are ample amounts of research in different disciplines that [make clear that with] diverse teams, you get better outcomes.
Something that I've talked with other colleagues around is what [we] might call fiscal impact statements. The effects of policies, not just the effects of the policy but if their effects are disaggregated. Then the other thing I think is meeting businesspeople halfway and potentially having to tell the story as to why a more diverse, more inclusive workplace will help your bottom line, and it can be done. I've done it twice. I did it when I was on the faculty of the College of William & Mary where there the president and provost were being confronted by a local grassroots group that wanted them to pay their landscapers and housekeepers higher wages, but they were constrained by a very, very conservative board of governors who felt like a [inaudible] schedule that had steps to it where faculty paid more than housekeepers, they thought that was socialism.
They got into a bind, they felt they couldn't move any further, but I said, "Well, let's look at some data. Let's look at your turnover in these various occupations. Let's look at employer satisfaction." What you found was, to no surprise, the occupations or the jobs at the college that had the highest turnover, had the lowest morale, were the lowest-paying ones, the ones that the grassroots group was trying to engage. What we did was we built the business case for the president and the provost to say, "This is for us to provide a good product to our students." Clean classroom, safe campuses, nice dorms. You need to be paying these workers higher wages and since their productivity's going to rise, you're going to get a bigger bang out of it from that standpoint.
Then built the story for why our leading companies in Newark, New Jersey, need to be investing in not Newark capital, physical buildings but in Newarkers, into people, because they become consumers and they have buying power. I think we do have to use the stick in some ways and our influence and our power, but we also can use the carrot and tell stories that create situations where yeah, it's a win-win for not only employer getting good workers or great workers, but it's also a win for the worker or the employee.
Minson: I love that and I would add, I think many can see, to quote the late, great congressman John Lewis, I enjoy getting in good trouble because I think this is the work that we're supposed to do. So, I think the other part of it is you can only influence with the level of your understanding. If you, if we as a field are not examining the practices that we have and how we're paying our staff... I talk about Alice [referring to an employed person who has limited assets] a lot because I was Alice for the majority of my career, as a workforce practitioner.
If we're not examining the ways in which we are also mishandling our workers, particularly frontline workers and not valuing and centering people's humanity, then how can we then know the ways in which to communicate to our employer partners, "Hey, have you tried this? Have you looked at this? Have you tried this strategy or that strategy? It worked for us,” kind of avenue. I think the other thing is we're going to have to get comfortable with losing some employers.
Some employer partners will not want to really partner with you in a real way to say, how can we create a more inclusive environment, and can we work together to look at your disaggregated—the data that Bill just mentioned—your turnover rates, your retention rates, your advancement, who's advancing; what are the wage disparities and what they look like and how can we work on them collectively? Honestly, if there aren't workers, there isn't a business. How do we really flip some of the power that we tend to give to employers and say, actually, this should be a shared, reciprocal process.
I'm coming in, this worker's coming in everyday and working and what you do is compensate them based on the work that they provide, not their value that society has labeled to them because we choose not to acknowledge the skill sets that people have. One of the examples I like to use often is watch Undercover Boss. Right? Undercover Boss, the CEO goes into the plant and can hardly ever keep up, but we want to have the conversation about skill sets. Really we're talking about how we're valuing people, the skill sets we value as a country and then decide to put a dollar value on that.
Really interrogating the decisions that we're making, how we're making those decisions, where did they come from, whose norms are we using and perpetuating, and then what harm does that do to the communities that we say we're serving. Be willing to examine yourself and be willing to hold your business partners accountable. It is not lost on me that trust is a really important factor when working with employers, so building the trust to be able to have those direct conversations.
But at some point, you have to be willing to say, "These people are trusting me with identifying places of employment and pathways that I may not have had access to," and there's a responsibility when people put their trust in us to help connect them to employment opportunities. So, we have to honor that in the way that we negotiate with employers.
Miller: Yep, I definitely agree and that certainly touches on a couple of different questions that were in here, Claire, so you perfectly answered these without even being prompted. Really around how do we deal with this power dynamic, and I think it's OK to sit in the uncomfortable. You have to be willing to look at your own information, bring the value of that to your external partners who may have dismissed that in the past but also be willing that you're not going to convince everyone that this is the right way to go.
Bill, back to what you said, I think it's important for us to look at what are the sticks and what are the carrots, because not everything is a stick and not everything is a carrot. Some people are going to be motivated by different tools in that regard. Even when you're working with your employer partners, I think there is a little bit of... We need to be able to spin our shared message between where we're doing this because it is a financially beneficial decision for you to make because you're saving money, it's offering all of these other residual economic benefits to our community.
But in some cases, they are going to be motivated by they want to do good, they want to be that leader of a new way of engaging and really changing the face of their workforce and setting a good example. I think both are fine. I think what I've experienced is that a lot of people just expect there to be the goodwill argument should always win the day, and while I agree with that, I think practically we have to understand that many of our partners are going to be motivated by that bottom line, but we can show them the triple bottom line, the potential with this work that we have.
Bill, I feel like I cut you off a little bit. Have we meandered from what you were going to say?
Rodgers: No, no, you're right on target and I think the only thing I would just add, I think it connects to both what you and Claire were saying, is when folks are doing evaluations, whether it be ourselves or our partner companies, look at your indicators that you're using because you could have a situation like one of my colleagues... I won't mention the university he's at, but he had a situation where he would get the list of [those admitted] to their program, and it would work out where typically all the Black kids or the Black applicants were at the bottom.
But these are applicants who have 3.8s, 3.9s, 4.0s [in grade point averages], really good letters, so he was like, "Why is that?" He looked at the [inaudible] indicator of the undergraduate school's level of competition and except for Morehouse, Spelman, Howard, many of the HBCUs in this [inaudible] catalog, they get the lowest or least level of competition. That factor was applied. Well, what it ended up doing, basically when they created the index, it just pushed down all the Black applicants to the bottom, and no one was willing to step back and say, "Whoa, what's wrong with this?"
Again, there wasn't animus there, but this is systemic racism right here. This is an example of it. So, what are the remedies? Well, let's look at that indicator and say, "OK, yes, it's a reasonable indicator, but it's clearly clumping a set of people and putting them at the bottom. What are your solutions? Well, look at the recommendation. Call those people up who are the recommenders, maybe you interview those applicants. But at first, there's the three As, with the awareness, acceptance, and action. The first part of doing better is the awareness and that's doing a 360-degree fearless inventory of our practices.
I was on a conversation with Anita Hill a couple weeks ago and instead of talking about systemic racism, she's wanting—this is what you're really getting at, Claire—systemized racism. Systemized racism. What are the processes and how we are generating these differential outcomes? The example here is back to, you think you have an unbiased measure, but it really is actually biased because it's differentially pushing one particular group down as opposed to sprinkling them out and creating that dispersion that you want.
Miller: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I think that that's really critical framing, especially as we're... We'll constantly have to negotiate the difference between the race neutral and race specific, both in our intentions but also in the outcomes, because just like what you said, Bill, we can go into something with completely universal and good intentions, but when we look at the outcomes, then that has to force us to look back at how we set up that approach and those systems in the first place.
I do love this awareness, acceptance, and action. It's almost like the stages of grieving. We have to have awareness of what's going on and Claire, like you said, critically look at what we're doing ourselves so that we can be a good model and then accept what we need to do from here and then activate that. Because certainly, I appreciate that this moment that we've been in for the past couple months has really been focused on this awareness and acceptance piece, and I think we're closely getting to the point where we need to start admiring the problem and admiring the reality of what's happened over years and years and years and start to do things a little bit differently.
I want to close out with a question that kind of speaks to the other side of this, not necessarily looking at the powers that be that set up these policies or set up these programs, but the workers that are subject to these policies and programs and opportunities and how can we really support the worker power in all of this and increase their agency and prioritize that individual choice. If either of you have any suggestions on how we can build that worker power and organize workers in the 21st century and their role in the workforce system, we'd love to hear your thoughts on that.
Rodgers: Sure. Claire, you get to go this time first.
Minson: The first thing I think about is we have to actually value it in order to want to mobilize it, and I think what folks in the youth serving space have done an amazing job at is actually honoring and valuing and centering youth voice. We haven't figured that out in the adult space, which is mind blowing because we're serving fully grown adults who have kids, who are managing lives, yet we don't honor, going back to the assets-based framing, or just centering people's humanity. We don't honor that they come to the table with a voice and that the systems in which we're all operating in have completely marginalized them.
If we're standing in the gap, because that's what I really see our role is as a network—standing in the gap—then it means that we are really opening the door and creating space to come in and share their own voice. I don't necessarily need to speak on your behalf, but I may need to open a door for you to have a space and a platform to share your story or to bring your community together or create space to bring community together. Or like I was mentioning earlier, we're not necessarily always in the policy advocacy space, but if I have access to clients and job seekers and job candidates, rather, and I hear the common challenge that they're facing.
In Baltimore, it was transportation which was the bane of our existence. That wasn't something that I, as a director or provider, could fix and work on, but actually I have a cadre of people who experience the pain and I can bring my advocacy partners and say, "Hey, how can we work on this together? How can we take a trip to Annapolis?" I'm in my Baltimore mind. How can we take a trip to the Capitol and advocate? How do we create space and access and opportunities for people to use their voice that they haven't been allowed to use versus us speaking on their behalf. I think that's a really important distinction for me.
But really, I would just say honoring it and then creating the space and then finding the ways to connect the dots within the constructs in which we work in.
Miller: Final thoughts, Bill?
Rodgers: Two thoughts. One is leverage. Before the pandemic, we had an extremely low unemployment rate, not just low for a month or two, workers, the labor supply or the pool of untapped workers, as Secretary Herman, my old boss, used to talk about it, were at historical lows. The number of unemployed people, those who were working part time that want to work full time and those who had stopped searching but if offered a job, they'd take it. That clearly is not the case right now, won't be the case for a while.
But the leverage point here is about public health. We do not want to be putting employees or referring workers to employees who aren't providing PPE, who aren't creating safe workplaces where they're sanitizing the workplace, they're getting training on how to do that and mitigate. That's point number one. Number two, and this is something Claire had mentioned in passing, the ALICE report. I had the benefit of being on the board at United Way of New Jersey when we were creating that concept.
One of my favorite charts, and they've actually updated it, made it look a little slicker than back in 2010, and that is we created this grid that showed each budget line for ALICE. ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, and it's people who were by definition in poverty, but it's also those who live in a community that are at or below the amount of money it costs to live in that community. That threshold is a threshold where if you're below it, you're not going to Disneyland.
But what we did was we took these budget lines and then we had on the column, we said this is what it means if Alice doesn't have good housing for her. This is what it means for Alice and her family if she doesn't have health insurance. But we then added a second and more crucial column which I think is more crucial where we are today, and that was what's the impact on everyone? Even if you don't live in the same neighborhood with Alice. Maybe Alice is your house cleaner or maybe Alice is your babysitter or maybe Alice is your schoolteacher, your kid's schoolteacher.
They may not live in the same neighborhood as you, but if they're having problems, everyone has problems. It gets back to my earlier comment about building the narratives. Some employers are going to get it, how doing the right thing, so to speak, helps their economic bottom line, but as I saw in my case with the College of William & Mary and some of the businesses I've spoken with here in New Jersey, they need the assistance, they need help with telling that story. Telling that story of Alice, not just this is what would happen if we raised the minimum wage for Alice and her family. This is what would happen for the whole economy.
This reminds me of who our center is named after, John Heldrich. He used to talk about in his days when he was at J&J, that not only is public health economic health, but he used to talk about workforce development is economic development.
Rodgers: They're hand in hand, and if you do them right, that leads to economic growth but growth in a shared way, where people are getting rewarded their potential.
Miller: Absolutely. Workforce development and economic development are, without question, two sides of the same coin and we can't have conversations about them as disparate or in separate rooms or through different tables or silos. It truly does need to be integrated. I thank you, Bill and Claire, so, so much. We've had so many questions that we haven't begun to get to. We could have this conversation for three more hours and I would enjoy every second of it, though I'm sure you guys would be exhausted and we have to have a cocktail hour at the end over Zoom.
But I know everyone on the call has been absolutely delighted to hear from you. We will follow back up with all the questions that you've submitted we haven't been able to get to. We will answer after the fact, so you'll have something to refer back to. A quick little plug there for the Alice data set. I'm so glad that this came up in the conversation because I use it quite a bit, it's a very important and revealing data set, especially if used in the ways certainly that Claire and Bill were referencing.
On our next conversation later this month on August 26 where we talk about childcare workforce development and economic development, this will be kind of a state case study from Florida where they did exactly that. They used the ALICE data as their catalytic storytelling mechanism to really understand why they needed to coinvest. We will get this reporting out to you, a digest of the full Q&A. I'm sure Claire and Bill would love to continue the conversation with us. Maybe we can get them back again later on because I know that everyone has been very excited about the conversation, as have we.
My deepest thank yous and respect for your comments, the work that you do, and we look forward to joining everybody again later this month. Thanks for joining.
Minson: Thank you.
Rodgers: Thank you.