by Susan Crandall
Center for Social Policy
During the presidential debates, Candidate Clinton promoted a number of workforce development and employment policies aimed at building the middle class. In general, Clinton’s proposals are a step in the right direction, but they need to be fleshed out further to avoid unintended consequences and to ensure that that low paid workers advance. Here I dive deeper into several of these policies, and suggest additional modification to her proposals:
Access to Good Jobs. During the last debate, Clinton stressed the importance of jobs in clean energy and advanced manufacturing. While promising, not all jobs in these sectors pay decent wages: labor market information must be carefully examined before workforce training programs are established. Further, women are often excluded from job opportunities in these sectors, thus policies that encourage women to enter and succeed in STEM fields must be integrated into workforce programs. In addition, while important, these sectors are still small relative to other sectors, such as healthcare and retail. The service sector is more heavily dominated by women and people of color, who are also more likely to be in low-paying jobs. Thus in order to ensure advancement for all, creating good jobs in the service sector must be given equal weight to more traditional blue collar industries.
Increase Minimum Wage. With wage stagnation and spiraling costs, there is no doubt a minimum wage increase is a needed boost for workers, especially since the number of low wage jobs is growing and middle wage jobs have yet to recover from the Great Recession. The implementation of a minimum wage increase, however, must take into account “cliff effects,” or how small increases in income cause low-paid workers to lose essential public supports, such as housing or childcare vouchers. Our Center for Social Policy research shows that some families might be especially vulnerable to cliff effect. Thus, related policies must be reshaped in concert, so that workers can advance while meeting the needs of their families.
Expand Profit Sharing. Clinton’s plan proposes that companies that share profits with their employees would receive a two-year tax credit equal to 15 percent of the profits they share. The tax credit would only be available to firms that share profits widely among all employees, and phase out for higher-income workers. If successfully implemented, the investment in profit sharing is projected to increase the wages of millions of employees. However, profit sharing is less common in the service sector and for employees without college degrees, therefore implementation must include capacity building as well incentives to encourage wide-spread adoption by service sector employers.
Free College. Clinton’s plan calls for free community college tuition and, for families with income up to $125,000, no tuition at in-state four-year public colleges and universities. The plan requires states to step up and invest in public higher education – this component will be crucial so that class sizes do not balloon and educational support services remain in place. These support services, including coaching and career navigation, are critical so that the focus is not merely on accessing but also on completing college, an especially important challenge to address for low-income students.
Create More Apprenticeships. Traditional college is not a fit for all students, so programs that allow workers to earn while they learn can have a strong impact. By combining on-the-job training with related technical instruction, apprenticeship produce skilled workers trained to employer specifications. This results in higher productivity and lower turnover for employers and higher wages and college credit for employees. Apprenticeships are on the rise, but have yet to take hold in service industries such as retail and hospitality. When it comes to traditional fields such as manufacturing and construction, it is critical that these programs are opened up to women and workers of color. Apprenticeships do take time and employer commitment to develop, and require partnerships with community colleges and nonprofits. These factors must be taken into consideration when developing and allocating resources for apprenticeship programs.
Overall, Clinton’s workforce and employment plans are a good starting point to improve wages and employment prospects for the middle class. With adjustments to strengthen policies for low-income workers, everyone will have the opportunity to succeed.
Susan R. Crandall (PhD, University of Washington Foster Business School) directs the Center for Social Policy at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School. She is an an experienced innovator, researcher, evaluator, and author on topics including workforce development, low-wage work, labor workforce intermediaries, and talent management practices.