Sandra is one of the half million people in the United States who works full time for the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour (another 1.3 million make less than the federal minimum wage). As I write this in mid-December, Sandra has earned $14,500 in 2018. She will make another $500 or so before the year is out. Yet after more than 2000 hours of work, no vacation or sick time, she has annual earnings of just $15,000.
At the same time, we keep hearing about record low unemployment, a tight labor market, and the fact that businesses can’t find the workers they need. Sandra heard that an employer on the outskirts of town is hiring, will train on the job, and offers a starting wage of $12 an hour. Unfortunately, the public transit system doesn’t go there, and buying a car is beyond reach on Sandra’s $15,000 income.
If you are reading this, then you know that there are too many Sandras in America. An estimated one in nine workers are being paid too little to escape poverty for their family size. We certainly know it here at the National Fund for Workforce Solutions—in fact, it is our reason for being.
But as we reflect on 2018, I am pleased to note that we have made good progress—creating economic opportunity for more people, changing employer practices, and addressing the systemic barriers that hinder progress for people like Sandra. In fact, we are making new investments in four communities to expand our efforts to promote economic mobility through systems change.
This year, we welcomed the Cleveland-based Fund for Our Economic Future into our network and are excited about the work they have been doing and have planned to foster inclusive economic growth in Northeast Ohio.
We are trying to change the national conversation around good jobs, working with our engaged employers to understand that making their jobs better and investing in frontline workers is not only a necessary tactic in this current tight labor market, but a smart long-term business strategy. The National Fund’s highly engaged job quality community of practice is a testament to the national momentum behind this conversation.
Most importantly, this year we have made addressing and reducing racial inequities an explicit part of our work. In September we convened the first of many training sessions on racial equity, and we applaud our regional collaboratives who are leading the charge with this important and difficult work. At the national level, we have designated a National Fund staff member, Ana Hageage, to lead us in these efforts and hold us accountable.
We will be shining a light on these issues—racial equity, systems change, and making jobs better—at our 2019 convening, June 25-27 in Dallas. Stay tuned for more on this.
I want to offer my sincere thanks to all of our partners and supporters for all that you do, in 2018 and always, in service of our mission.
However you celebrate, I wish you and yours a warm holiday season and a happy new year.