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Four State and Local Policy Trends That Help Advance Job Quality

January 16, 2024

At a Glance

The Quality Jobs Framework highlights policy change and enforcement as key drivers of change. At a time when the federal legislative process is moving at a glacial pace, policy initiatives at the state and local levels may represent the best opportunity to craft legislative and regulatory measures that promote tangible advances in job quality.

Contributors
David Bradley Senior Director
Holly Siino Senior Manager, JFF
Practices & Centers

There’s a big gap between what workers say matters in a job and what they’re experiencing at work.

In the Quality Jobs Survey of 2,199 U.S. workers that Jobs for the Future (JFF) conducted in partnership with Morning Consult, 90% of the respondents said that they consider the quality of their job important or very important to their overall life satisfaction, yet nearly 40% of them said that they were currently in low- or medium-quality jobs.

Employers won’t be able to close that gap on their own by changing their human resources policies and practices one by one. Strong public policies will play a key role in driving lasting change, either by offering employers incentives to improve job quality or requiring them to take steps that result in the creation of new quality jobs.

At JFF, we’re actively involved in accelerating the national conversation about the need to create more quality jobs and improve low-quality jobs, and our commitment to this work is reflected in the ambitious goal we recently embraced as our North Star: In 10 years, 75 million people facing systemic barriers to advancement will work in quality jobs.

Recognizing that achieving this goal will require a collaborative effort on the part of leaders throughout the learn and work ecosystem, we developed a resource called the Quality Jobs Framework that offers a rundown of approaches employers, policymakers, and many other stakeholders can take to improve quality across a job: compensation, advancement, agency and culture, and structure.

Note: While JFF supports the trends discussed here, we don’t explicitly endorse the specific policy examples. We believe these trends represent opportunities to push crucial advances in job quality and may offer valuable inspiration for workforce advocates and practitioners seeking to drive policy and practice changes. We hope this report offers you insights that you can adapt to your specific circumstances.

State and local action is key

The Quality Jobs Framework highlights policy change and enforcement as key drivers of change. And at a time when the federal legislative process is moving at a glacial pace, policy initiatives at the state and local levels may represent the best opportunity to craft legislative and regulatory measures that promote tangible advances in job quality.

Moreover, state and local workforce boards can be among the most powerful players in spurring state and local policy change, and we’ve identified four emerging trends in policymaking that help create an environment that could support and enhance workforce boards’ efforts to improve job quality in the communities they serve.

Here’s a look at the four trends, with examples of these policies in action. That’s followed by a rundown of specific ways workforce boards can activate concrete plans to get involved (or more involved) in policy action and change.

Four state and local policy trends that help advance job quality

1. Promoting pay transparency and wage theft prevention regulations.

Public conversations about job quality have often emphasized fair compensation, and rightly so. Since the federal minimum wage was last increased in 2009, U.S. workers have experienced a 26% decline in their purchasing power, adjusted for inflation.

As a result, a significant segment of the U.S. workforce is in survival mode, with workers experiencing financial insecurity, juggling multiple jobs, sacrificing precious time with their families, and essentially exchanging their time for the right to work.

While national solutions will take time, states and localities are stepping up, piloting solutions like policies that index the minimum wage to inflation.

Meanwhile, a major shift is already brewing across U.S. workplaces, fueled in part by a recent wave of pay transparency laws popping up across the country. These laws require employers to provide information about salary ranges and the criteria that inform decisions about salary levels to both current employees and job candidates. The days of “hush-hush” when it comes to discussing salary are no more.

Likewise, enacting or strengthening wage theft prevention laws is another way for states and localities to ensure that workers in their regional economies receive fair compensation. These laws set clear standards for what constitutes wage theft and call for monitoring of employer practices to ensure that jobs are properly classified and employers comply with overtime rules.

2. Earmarking funding for programs that build pathways to quality jobs.

States and localities are increasingly tying their workforce investments to initiatives that promote job quality. Through skills development, sector partnerships, career pathways, and work-based learning programs, these regions are maximizing their workforce investments—guided by strategy and measurement—to ensure that workers can not only survive but contribute back to a thriving economy where quality employers are the norm.

In recent years, policies that advance apprenticeship and other work-based learning models have gained significant bipartisan support among state and local officials across the country. Strategies that have proved effective at building viable pathways to quality jobs include apprenticeship tax credits, college-sponsored apprenticeships, and funding for wraparound supports.

Other state and local governments have enacted targeted tax credit legislation, creating tangible incentives and supports for employers who provide quality jobs. These credits are often tied to specific commitments on the part of the employer, such as providing workers with clear pathways to career advancement and opportunities to build new skills.

Policy in Action

Washington

In the state of Washington, the long-term care industry has been experiencing a workforce crisis, so the state’s Training and Education Coordinating Board established a new nursing apprenticeship program that moves certified nursing assistants and home care aides along a pathway to becoming licensed practical nurses. It's one of the first Registered Apprenticeship programs in the state that specifically serves frontline caregivers in long-term care and creates supported pathways into nursing careers.

3. Advancing equity and inclusion in the workforce.

State and local policymakers are expanding access to quality jobs for members of populations that have long faced barriers to employment in three ways: supporting hiring efforts that give priority to local workers, advancing programs that open new career opportunities for people with criminal records, and promoting skills-first hiring.

Often supported by tax breaks or rules requiring companies to hire local residents if they want to win government contracts, place-based hiring initiatives can stimulate local economies and ensure that residents are the first to benefit from new economic activity and government spending.

To give people with records of arrests or convictions access to pathways to quality jobs, many state and local governments are implementing fair chance hiring initiatives, which often start with passage of “Ban the Box” laws that prevent employers from asking people whether they have criminal histories on job applications. And some are eliminating regulations that prevent people from holding certain jobs if they have criminal records.

State and local officials are also exploring ways to craft policies that would encourage employers to forgo degree requirements and embrace skills-first hiring, meaning they’d evaluate candidates based on what they can do, not on their academic achievements.

Policies in Action

New York State

As part of a deal to spend $850 million in public funds on the construction of a new stadium for the NFL’s Buffalo Bills franchise, New York state and Erie County officials worked with Bills officials to craft a community benefits agreement under which the team agreed to invest at least $3 million (indexed to the inflation rate) in the community in each year of the 30-year stadium lease. The team and stadium developers agreed to, among other things, adhere to living wage and prevailing wage standards in setting compensation levels for stadium construction contractors and future stadium employees. They also agreed to offer local companies, including “minority-owned” and women-owned businesses, opportunities to be part of the stadium construction project and ongoing operations and maintenance activities.

Georgia

In 2015, Georgia enacted legislation that limits public employers in the state from conducting criminal background checks on job applicants during the initial stages of the hiring process.

4. Enhancing work-life balance and well-being.

One fact was made plain during the Great Resignation, when millions of people walked away from their jobs (bringing the nation’s “quit rate” to a 20-year high): People are increasingly taking note of their working conditions and speaking up, calling on employers to play a new and expanded role in securing their personal well-being—and they’re voting with their feet.

According to research conducted by Pew in 2022, roughly half of U.S. workers who quit a job in 2021 cited child care issues as a reason they had to stop working, and a similar number cited lack of flexibility.

More than that, in JFF’s Quality Jobs Survey, 70% of respondents identified a combination of various non-compensation-related aspects of employment as playing important roles in determining the quality of a job.

Across the country, state and local policy measures that promote improvements in paid family and medical leave, the affordability of child care, and access to mental health and well-being supports could play key roles in improving job quality by improving non-financial benefits.

Paid family and medical leave policies have become a focal point in many state and city-level efforts to enhance employee well-being. These policies generally mandate that employers provide a designated period of paid leave to employees for personal health needs, family care, or other qualifying reasons. These initiatives prioritize the health and work-life balance of employees, ensuring that they can address personal and family matters without facing financial hardships.

Crafting policies that enable affordable child care solutions has long been a goal for many states and communities. These initiatives aim to alleviate the financial burden on families while ensuring that parents can participate fully in the workforce. Specific policy priorities vary, but many focus on providing funding subsidies, increasing the supply of child care “seats,” and establishing public-private partnerships.

Proposals for promoting employee mental health and well-being initiatives are gaining ground in policy discussions, and such initiatives are becoming integral to state and regional workforce strategies. Of course, achieving this goal involves reshaping workplace cultures, and there isn’t necessarily a straightforward way to craft policies that do that. Nonetheless, cities and states could help bolster and expedite employer initiatives supporting worker well-being by establishing benefits funds, incentive programs, recognition initiatives, and more.

Policies in Action

Illinois

In 2023, Illinois became the third state in the nation, and the first in the Midwest, to mandate paid time off to be used for any reason. The measure, which takes effect January 1, 2024, guarantees 40 hours of paid leave during a 12-month period.

California

In California, the Paid Family Leave program entitles workers who contribute to the California State Disability Insurance fund to eight weeks of partial pay within a 12-month period when taking time off to care for family members.

Iowa

Iowa has launched innovative policy initiatives to significantly expand access to child care. New funding led to the creation of nearly 11,000 new child care spots for the children of working parents.

Philadelphia, PA

Philadelphia has a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights that, among other things, established a portable paid sick day program that includes provisions entitling domestic workers to use paid time off for mental health days.

How can workforce boards and their partners drive policy change?

Here are four ways you and other leaders of state and local workforce development boards (WDB), along with your partners, can harness the momentum evident in the trends we identified to catalyze action on policies that improve job quality.

“Walk the walk” by identifying and acting on opportunities for policy and/or practice change within your control.

WDBs should incorporate human-centered design in developing workforce policies and strategies, as a way of moving beyond compliance-driven actions and toward a workforce system that places people at the center of workforce development. By better understanding the needs of both workers and employers, WDBs are positioned to assist workers with employment opportunities in jobs that best meet their needs. For example, WDBs may base job training and placement decisions on criteria that emphasize more than just helping people develop the skills that are most in demand among employers.

Collecting, analyzing, and sharing job quality data.

With an appetite to lead and the right support from your board and/or partners, you can shift the conversation about job quality and worker well-being in your state or community and, in doing so, catalyze direct action on policies and practices to ensure that more workers find meaningful, quality jobs—and that employers offering quality jobs thrive.

Engage with key stakeholders—including workers themselves—to maximize your impact.

Workforce boards are in a unique position to engage a wide range of stakeholders in the workforce development ecosystem and ensure that they’re in agreement about priorities and goals. Because WDBs serve and partner with workers, employers, educational institutions, and many other stakeholders, they can build public awareness about best practices for improving job quality, help establish common definitions of quality jobs, and help coordinate delivery of a range of supportive services that can enhance job quality for workers.

Educate, engage, and partner directly with allied policymakers.

Because workforce boards play many roles in the workforce development ecosystem—convening stakeholders, planning strategies, evaluating programs—you have a wealth of expertise and practical experience that makes you well qualified to engage with policymakers and educate them about the most effective ways to improve job quality and connect them with employers that have track records of successfully creating quality jobs.

With a comprehensive understanding of what is a very decentralized workforce system, you can offer valuable insights that will help policymakers design legislative and regulatory approaches to improving job quality. There are a number of ways to get involved and make an impact, ranging from light-touch advisory roles to opportunities co-author legislation in partnership with policymakers.

Help JFF expand access to quality jobs through a committed push for policy change.

The campaign to advance quality jobs will require a wide range of stakeholders to come together and engage in a collaborative effort. But however dynamic this initiative may be, policy change and enforcement will be foundational to its success.

As key partners in the learn and work ecosystem, workforce development boards are uniquely positioned to help conceive, craft, and enact innovative policies that will have a tangible impact on the drive to create more quality jobs for workers. Be sure to make the most of this opportunity.

To receive updates about programs and strategies designed to expand quality jobs, and to learn about opportunities to collaborate with JFF and invest in this work, connect with us on LinkedIn, Instagram, or Facebook, or subscribe to our mailing list.

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