Ask Us Anything: Infrastructure Job Programs Creating Career Opportunities for People of Color, Women, and Youth
This Q&A Digest has been derived from the Ask Us Anything session on “Infrastructure Job Programs Creating Career Opportunities for People of Color, Women, and Youth” held on March 3, 2021, with Carl Van Horn, distinguished professor of public policy at Rutgers University and director of the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development; Mary Alice McCarthy, director of the Center on Education and Skills for New America; Kisha Bird, director of youth policy at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP); and Brad Markell, executive director of the AFL-CIO Working for America Institute.
- After the Great Recession, U.S. investment did not lead to lasting change in job opportunity for many. As a result, an entire generation was left underemployed and often working in jobs that do not pay sustainable wages. For the recovery from the pandemic recession, there is a need for policies that prioritize goals and investment to create a labor market that can withstand future recessions. This work involves targeting occupational segregation that keeps wages low, implementing programs that support families with young children, and youth investment that will lead to long-term career growth in underserved communities.
- As infrastructure and other jobs programs are implemented, three important goals should be paramount. They are equity in race, gender, ability, and geography; getting workers into good jobs speedily; and empowering worker voices by giving them a say in decision-making.
- Infrastructure programs should focus on updating and upgrading America’s infrastructure, incorporating technology and investments in areas such as clean energy and electric vehicles that can reduce the effects of climate change.
The Atlanta Fed’s Center for Workforce and Economic Opportunity offers a number of data tools and publications to help you track unemployment, reemployment, and other potential policy and practice suggestions while you manage recovery from the pandemic.
Federal Reserve Bank
Opportunity Occupations Monitor tracks trends in jobs that offer salaries of at least the U.S. annual median wage (adjusted for local cost of living differences) for which employers do not require a bachelor's degree—opportunity occupations—in states and metro areas.
Unemployment Claims Monitor provides data on initial and continued claims for unemployment insurance as well as claimants' demographic data. The tool also contains data on claimants in the Short-Time Compensation (Workshare), Extended Benefits, State Additional Benefits, Federal Employee, and Ex-Service Member programs.
Workforce Currents includes articles on various workforce topics addressing research, policy, and practice.
Exploring a Skills-Based Approach to Occupational Mobility from the Federal Reserve Banks of Philadelphia and Cleveland examines how transferable skills could pave the way for lower-wage workers to move up to higher-paying positions and help meet talent needs of employers.
Center for Workforce and Economic Opportunity Events describes upcoming events and includes registration links for Ask Us Anything webinar sessions.
Resources from our Panelists:
Youth, Equity, and the Power of Now: Our Collective Responsibility proposes actions to address employment challenges faced by young people.
An Infrastructure Stimulus Plan for the COVID-19 Recession explores how Congress can design an infrastructure stimulus that responds to today’s recession and include forward-looking investments.
Trillion Dollar Infrastructure Proposals Could Create Millions of Jobs—Will the New Jobs Lead to Sustainable Careers? This report analyzes how job programs can create lasting and sustainable careers for workers.
Getting Americans Back to Work and Good Jobs lays out a step-by-step plan for how federal job programs could create good jobs.
The Future of Apprenticeships examines the impact of virtual apprenticeships for young workers and the skills they gain.
Building Back Better: A Jobs-Centered Infrastructure Plan offers a set of recommendations for job-generating infrastructure spending to advance a more equitable and inclusive economy.
Using Past Lessons to Draw a Blueprint for Federal Investment in Community Colleges is designed to help policymakers craft investments that can make lasting differences for students.
#WhyWeCantWait Report collects and examines data on economic injustices experienced by young people (ages 16-25).
Brad Markell’s statement before the Committee on Education and Labor of the House of Representatives’ Higher Education and Workforce Investment Subcommittee focuses on ensuring workers are competitive in a rapidly changing economy.
Event Q & A
Given the emphasis on infrastructure investments in the Biden administration’s Build Back Better plan, how should investments in infrastructure be designed?
When structuring federal programs, policies need to be intentional; that is, they should prioritize and specify which communities—and which organizations within those communities—receive funding to implement job programs. Ultimately, local communities are best suited to manage funds because they know who needs support in their area. After decades of discrimination in employment and economic opportunity, goals of job programs should be targeted to help the demographic groups that previously lost out on opportunities—Black and other communities of color, women, and young people.
Lack of work experience and lack of references are systemic issues that hinder opportunities for young workers of color. Apprenticeship programs and other forms of subsidized employment can boost wages and minimize the risk for businesses while also breaking down systemic barriers. When thinking about local workforce solutions, it is important to think about local challenges. Where there are communities struggling with climate crises, infrastructure projects can be designed to address those problems and improve the standard of living.
Finally, investments in infrastructure should include funds to expand quality jobs. The private sector is not able to fund good jobs at the speed and scale the economy needs to lift workers out of poverty. Investment opportunities for subsidized employment can be found in every state or county budget in deferred maintenance projects. A well-structured program will not only create jobs building and maintaining bridges but also positions in manufacturing to provide materials for those projects.
In the past, infrastructure job programs have fallen short of providing equitable opportunity to good jobs and career paths. What accountability measures are important for ensuring these programs do so?
Federal and state policies can place levers of accountability to set broad goals of equity for the country. Quotas can be controversial, but incentives to meet targets encourage employers to reexamine their hiring and promotion practices to be more inclusive. Many employers and nonprofits struggle to find the resources for proper data evaluation, including data disaggregation. To ensure data is collected and analyzed efficiently, funds should be allocated to intermediaries, employers, and other players in workforce development to help track whether infrastructure job investments improve equity in the labor market.
Connecting disadvantaged communities to good jobs should be the main goal of a job program. For too long, the labor market has relied on workers to know what skills are needed and how to acquire them. A new, more equitable system would distribute the risk to other stakeholders including employers. Achieving equity will take every workforce partner, and investment should be distributed in a way that includes all of them. Ways to achieve this objective could include rewarding companies that are building their own accountability levers such as developing a feedback loop for worker voices, publishing data on salaries based on demographic information, or providing learning benefits and career counseling to employees.
How could opportunity youth, a reference to young people who are neither in school or the workforce, become a vital source of workers for an infrastructure job program?
Young adults account for 24 percent of workers in low-wage occupations. During the Great Recession, the number of opportunity youth grew from 4.5 million to more than six million potential workers. During the pandemic, some researchers believe this number has nearly tripled because of high unemployment for this age group and school closures that have resulted in older children caring for their younger siblings. Underinvestment in the workforce after the Great Recession left many workers underemployed through their 30s and even 40s, leaving them vulnerable to economic shocks such as the pandemic. Now, policymakers must ensure that the same doesn’t happen to today’s opportunity youth.
The Build Back Better plan should prioritize investment that establishes pathways for young workers. On a practitioner level, workforce boards and community-based organizations need to seek the input of young would-be workers in developing career pathways. If organizations focus only on the traditional paths, they risk losing these workers from lack of interest or investment.
How can workers, particularly young, Black workers, ensure that infrastructure job and apprenticeship programs will build their skills and career by connecting them with a good employer?
This concern is valid and understandable, and it centers on the question of job quality. All jobs should provide workers with a living wage, predictable hours, and benefits. Quality jobs should not just be for workers who move up the ladder, but also for workers who are just starting out in an industry.
There can be discrepancies in job quality among industries. For instance, since the truck driving industry was deregulated, jobs in that sector have fallen from the good job standard because they do not allow for a healthy work-life balance. Many building trades apprenticeship programs lead to high quality jobs with advanced skill sets within a short amount of time and result in no debt and higher wages for participants. This model should be replicated so that all apprenticeships lead to good jobs.
People seeking apprenticeships can often count on union-backed programs to provide good opportunities. No organization or type of organization can be the sole solution to this challenge. Partnerships between workforce investment boards, community-based organizations, and employers are important to support workers and raise accountability levels.
Reentry populations such as the formerly incarcerated struggle to find quality jobs that can reintegrate them into society. What should be included in the Build Back Better plan to help this community succeed?
As we think about making jobs accessible to all, we must think about the structural barriers some would-be workers face in their employment search. Structural barriers—such as practices that prohibit hiring people who were formerly incarcerated—can be either systemic (policies set at the local or state level) or behavioral (employer practices), or both. Examining reasons such obstacles exist can help determine the type of solutions workers need to overcome them.
For systemic barriers, policies at state and local levels must be adjusted through legislation to level the playing field for all populations. For instance, many family-based childcare centers do not exclude workers that have been involved with the criminal justice system from employment. However, centers that hire workers who have arrest records can be precluded from state level investment that could help them expand and create jobs.
A prevalent behavioral practice that presents a roadblock to workers affected by the criminal justice system is including a question about criminal records on job applications. While this practice can be changed through legislation, employers can also choose to remove this question voluntarily to increase the number of candidates and make jobs more accessible. State departments of labor may also find that issuing guidance on the topic might increase voluntary participation. Currently, 35 states and 150 cities or counties have “ban the box” laws or policies for public employment and 14 have extended the legislation to private employment.
Though community colleges are great training providers, many underprivileged populations find them daunting. How can partnerships between community colleges and community-based organizations help?
Increasing accessibility to community and technical colleges is critical to an equitable economy because they are first responders to the unemployed. One lesson of the Great Recession is that it is not enough to simply enroll students in community colleges, because people can face a multitude of challenges when they decide to seek education. Community-based organizations can bridge gaps for students of color by focusing on making initial connections between students and colleges as well as providing wraparound support services. Community colleges should also invest in support services to help students navigate their processes.
Relationships between colleges and employers can also bring benefits. These relationships take work and investment but can help community colleges connect with their local labor market more effectively to place students in good jobs. Apprenticeships, earn-and-learn, and other work-based models provide career pathways for students, but relationships with employers can support job creation and placement.
How can four-year institutions of higher education contribute to the infrastructure job program, especially as it relates to emerging technology industries?
Four-year institutions play a larger role in professional education, which is separate from the role community colleges play to train workers for specific jobs. However, higher education has the capacity and ability to work on research that either supports the core mission of community colleges or uplifts new training practices. All educational opportunities should be available to workers, so partnerships between four-year colleges and community colleges are necessary to ensure the continuity of curricula. The two educational systems can help connect their programming to build bridges from technical degrees earned at community colleges to advanced degrees from a four-year institution that are critical to emerging technology industries.
What sort of federal policy is needed to build the capacity of workforce intermediaries to contribute to infrastructure development?
Federal funding for infrastructure programs should focus on creating results for communities most in need. Often, directing funds to specific organizations to produce desired outcomes can help accomplish this goal. Workforce intermediaries can create partnerships within a community or between employers and local workers. These organizations can also serve as accountability trackers, collecting data from different sources to confirm that job programs are being administered equitably.
How can communities maximize local investment to support local entrepreneurs and community-based businesses to create lasting favorable effects?
Community benefits agreements (CBAs), which are contracts between developers and communities, have been used since the 1990s to help investors and workforce boards set objectives for populations, specific locations, or amenities. By considering public input for projects, workers, constituents, and business owners feel more connected to economic development projects and can voice their needs. CBAs are strong accountability measures since the project is public and documented.
Community development financial institutions (CDFIs) also play a role by connecting with community colleges, workforce boards, workers, and small businesses to cater to the needs of underserved markets. As the Community Reinvestment Act is being updated, banks have an incentive to lend to local organizations to aid local economies. CBAs and CDFIs provide a lasting impact because they create ties between investors and community stakeholders that can help projects succeed.
Stuart Andreason: Good afternoon everyone. Thanks for joining us. We're going to get going in just a minute as people filter into the session. And so I just want to say thanks for joining the first Atlanta Fed Center for Workforce and Economic Opportunity Ask Us Anything session this year and again we'll just... We'll get going in just a minute.
Let's go ahead and just get started. I want to welcome everyone and say thanks for joining us today. We've got an exciting session, and welcome to 2021. Happy new year to those that we haven't seen. This is the Center for Workforce and Economic Opportunity’s first Ask Us Anything of 2021. Today, we're going to be talking about infrastructure jobs and programs that support infrastructure jobs that help create career pathways and opportunities particularly for people of color, women, and youth. We're lucky to be joined by a couple of panelists that will provide some really useful thoughts on that and thinking about how these programs can create opportunity and be a part of expanding opportunity for workers.
The work today comes in part through a task force called the Better Employment and Training Strategies Task Force, or BETS for short. The BETS task force is a collection of researchers and policymakers and practitioners that have been thinking about as we enter 2021 and look to recovery from the pandemic and the economic crisis that has come from it, what are the policies, practices and ideas that can help advance better opportunities and stronger recovery and an expanded opportunity. Several of the panelists today are a part of that task force. There are going to be a number of briefs coming out and in fact a new brief was released today that we'll share with you shortly that comes from that work. I'm going to turn it over now to Carl Van Horn, who is the director of the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.
He's also a visiting scholar at the Atlanta Fed. He's going to lead the conversation today, and he's been one of the key contributors to the policy briefs that come from that BETS task force that'll inform the conversation today. So with that, I'm excited to turn it over to Carl. Go ahead and take it away.
Carl E. Van Horn: Thank you, Stuart. I appreciate that very much, and thanks to all you who joined us this afternoon or this morning, depending on where you are in the United States. We have an excellent panel today; I'll introduce them in a minute, but I just want to say a few framing words first before we get to that. I think most of you don’t need an orientation to the condition of the economy, but it's important to remind ourselves that even though we are beginning to recover, there's still 10 million people who are unemployed and struggling to find another job. And one of the lessons we learned, I think, from the Great Recession period was that the recovery took over a decade before we got back to full employment and opportunities for many people to have a good job.
So one of the remedies that's being considered by President Biden and Vice President Harris and also many people in Congress are some significant investments in job-creating programs such as infrastructure programs in the traditional sense of building roads and bridges and ports and airports, but also in the broader sense of infrastructure about the care economy and climate infrastructure and so on. So there's a much broader definition. The president already met with union leaders in the White House and senators who are interested in this topic, and it's still being crafted. What we wanted to do today was to focus on the issue, an issue that's very important that's being put together is how do we make sure that people who traditionally have been disadvantaged in the labor market are successful in taking advantage of these opportunities, not just to have a job but to create a career opportunity for themselves that lasts beyond the short-term intervention that the federal government might provide.
And so, who are those people? I mean clearly, they're people of color, Black and Latinx workers, women are significantly affected in this recession, and youth. And there are many different strategies that can be applied, and so we have a really outstanding panel to put the focus on that today to help you all who are on the call think about this in your respective communities and states, and also, we hope, provide advice to policymakers as they craft these infrastructure proposals. The backgrounds of all of our participants are in the invitation as well as many of the papers that they've produced. So I'm not going to go through those in great detail now because I want to get to the comments of our panelists. I'm going to start with Kisha Bird, but then we'll go to Brad Markell and then Mary Alice McCarthy. So Kisha lets... thank you, welcome, and let me start with you if I could. You've written about... as you know Kisha is the youth director at the Center for Law and Social Policy.
You've written about how young people are disproportionately affected by the economic burden of the pandemic and the recession, and as we know, unemployment is skyrocketing. So how can we structure these new jobs programs to ensure that they and people of color connect to these infrastructure opportunities and then the training and opportunities that may come after that to help them create a career?
Kisha Bird: Yes, thank you Carl, and thank you to my Fed’s task force partners for hosting this important conversation. So Carl, I just wanted to start off by just sharing a little bit of the why and then getting to the how, just so you can properly center where young workers fit in this mix. So we know young adults ages 18 to 24 account for about 24 percent of all workers and occupations with low wages including retail sales, cooks, servers. And according to our 2020 data analysis from last summer, we found that over half of unemployed young people were out of work due to the pandemic. And when we think about out-of-school youth that's opportunity youth, there is an estimated up to six million. Those are the Great Recession numbers up from 4.5 million, and some researchers are saying that number has tripled.
So we have a really huge issue as we really think about young people, young adults, and young workers. So how do we think about these potential infrastructure job opportunities and making sure that they're connected? One, we have to actually prioritize the investments to directly support their pathways. So just saying they are an allowable population won't necessarily reach them. So we have to have targeted investments, whether that's including benchmarks and accountability, in terms of how we structure these programs.
We have to also think about how do we support the capacity of state and local agencies across sectors and intermediaries to support how these programs, interventions in terms of how they support young people in terms of access, so whether that is intermediaries, institutions of higher education including community colleges, and four-year institutions, workforce development boards, but also community based organizations, ensuring that they're a part of this ecosystem because they have a track record of working with young people, they are in communities of color, and they have the trust and the expertise in terms of recruitment and support and ongoing long-term strategies. And then the other constituency I think is really important is to mention the young people themselves. And that is critical because they're both constituents in policy and planning but also in recruitment.
The third thing is how do we think about navigation and supportive services, as we think about infrastructure broadly as you mentioned—not just bricks and mortar but infrastructure in communities so far as community development and climate. And we know that young people are living in low-income communities, then support that may be needed; they may be students, parents, and workers. So that [needed aid] may be supportive service from childcare all the way to food and nutrition and transportation, and then navigation support in terms of career as well as in terms of supportive service. The last thing I'll mention, and I'll turn it back to you, Carl, is we know a lot about what are the specific programmatic and practice strategies. One, they are structured for skills building and learning, but they also support wages and stipends, and they also connect to employment; they connect to business and industry.
So they're not just training to nowhere, but they're training to what we know in terms of region and states and communities; what are in-demand industries and careers not just now and in the future; and also what are those pathways to good jobs so to help move young people out of low-wage sectors and raise the floor for everyone.
Van Horn: Thank you very much, Kisha; I will come back to you later. All very good comments. I want to turn it over to Brad Markell now, from the Working for America Institute. Brad, unions obviously have played historically a very important role in creating pathways to upward mobility and middle class and above for American workers for decades. How do you see, in this current environment, organized labor can help provide this pathway not just for young workers but for other workers that historically have been disadvantaged to move into those better opportunities so that they can achieve the kind of life that many organized labor workers already experience? [crosstalk]
Brad Markell: Thank you to the Atlanta Fed for having me; [I’m] really pleased to be here. It's an exciting time right now. The big agenda that the president has and the potential to create a lot of jobs means that there should be opportunity out there. And we have to take a lot of intentionality toward making sure that that opportunity is distributed better than it has been in the past. I would just... one piece that labor pays a lot of attention to is where are these investments going? Because training does not create jobs; investment creates a need for training, and so just like Kisha was saying, the connection to the employer starts with investment, right?
And President Biden has talked about the Justice40 [Initiative] and 40 percent of the benefits of climate spending going to disadvantaged communities. He's backed up Congressman Clyburn's 10-20-30, which pushes money to 10 percent of funds toward counties that have had persistent poverty [of] 20 percent for 30 years, which are more than you would like them to be in number. So that's the first piece, is being mindful about how we're creating jobs and driving that investment to the right places. Then, of course, for us especially in an infrastructure, investment agenda, apprenticeship and preapprenticeship. Labor's preapprenticeship programs are more and more successful in getting people of color into them. The National Building Trades has a multicraft core curriculum which is graduating something like 80 percent people of color at this point, they put 7,000 people, I think, through this program. In California, 70 percent of apprentices are Black indigenous people of color.
So if we could create the work in a place like California, where working people have a little bit of power, then we have a chance, as I always say, to do the right thing. You have to be intentional about that.
Van Horn: That's great; good opening start on that. Let me now turn to Mary Alice McCarthy of the New America Foundation, the director for Center on Education and Workforce. Mary Alice has also been a great thought leader in the apprenticeship space for many years. I guess what I'd like to ask you to focus on a bit is that issue that Brad mentioned, but also connecting it to some other work that you've done on how this economy is, this current economy has been devastating on women and their need to get back in the workplace as they have shouldered the burden of the pandemic, taking care of their children and often elderly relatives who are ill or family members. So Mary Alice, I'll give you a chance to speak on both of those topics if you will.
Mary Alice McCarthy: Great. Thank you, Carl. Thank you very much and thank you to the Atlanta Fed for the opportunity to be here today, and thanks to all of you who have dialed in. So this is an exciting time; I completely agree, Brad, and it feels like a time of possibility. So I think first and foremost like Kisha and Brad have said, I think at the center of this recovery, we know we need to have a job creation strategy. We have to build any sort of training investments around a job-generating strategy. The jobs come first, and then we have to figure out training strategies to get people into those good jobs. And that's why apprenticeship is a particularly good strategy because it kills two birds with one stone to say the same here; it does two things at once. It both creates a job, and it also allows people to get into paid employment while also learning new skills and often acquiring valuable credentials.
So it really is the gold standard for how to do this well. An infrastructure bill is particularly well positioned to sort of leverage apprenticeship because there's a deep history of using apprenticeship in many of the jobs that go with big infrastructure projects. So I think it's just it's a great way to think about an approach that that brings together an opportunity to build our physical infrastructure and our human capital infrastructure. But as both Kisha and Brad have pointed out, historically, those apprenticeship systems have not always been very welcoming to communities of color and to women. And I agree that without a very intentional strategy, we cannot expect sort of an infrastructure bill even if it requires apprenticeship opportunities to necessarily make sure that those apprenticeship opportunities get to the communities that really need them and have been sort of excluded from them. So to Brad's point, I would also point to California as one of, a great success story in really expanding the reach of their apprenticeship programs to communities that historically were not represented in them, and it's just important to remember that didn't happen by accident. It was part of some very intentional policymaking by folks in California. And that's what we're going to need to see here and also part of our very intentional strategy of keeping track and measuring their progress towards those goals, and that's why we have those numbers.
So those are things that I think the Biden administration and Congress, I hope will consider when they think about this infrastructure bill. But yes, the only thing to your point Carl, about this recession and this opportunity with infrastructure, I think we do need to think very broadly about infrastructure, and we need to be thinking about our care infrastructure.
And that's one way is if we can tackle some of the issues around our care infrastructure might also help us tackle one of the other really sort of tragedies of this particular recession, which is its outsized negative impacts on women and particularly women of color. I don't want to... I want to make sure I use up... I could talk for a long time about this. So let me think about how to not... Yeah, I'm collapsing two sections here into one, but [there’s] a lot of statistics on how this recession has had an outsized impact on women, quite different from the Great Recession. I'll just say according to the January jobs report, more than 275,000 women left the workplace in the month of December, compared to just 71,000 men, right? There are reasons why this has been particularly tough on... this recession has been tough on women mostly because of the sectors of the economy that it is affecting, and the fact that women take on, have a heavier burden generally when overseeing children's education at home and care for the elderly and people with disabilities in their families.
And let's also be clear, again, this is recession having an outsized impact on women of color who are overrepresented in the economic sectors that we're talking about. So I just think it's really important to think about we have a real opportunity when it comes to the care sector. So if you'll allow me, I'm just going to make my four-point case for why we should include... why I hope the administration and Congress include investments in care in a broader infrastructure bill. I think we know that this pandemic has shown us just how profoundly underdeveloped our systems of childcare and long-term care are and how much that underdevelopment contributes to and exacerbates racial and gender inequities in wealth, in health, and in just general wellbeing.
The lack of access to affordable childcare has been devastating for families who've had to choose between either leaving a job to take care of their children or putting their children at risk in order to be able to make a living. Shortages of well-trained home health workers has also been devastating as more Americans we know who are in nursing homes have been at much greater risk for COVID than older people or people with disabilities who are able to get care in their home. And then also we have a... our lack of investment in the care infrastructure is also holding us back economically. When women have to drop out of the labor force to take care of their families, we lose vital workers that add value to our economy. Other advanced economies have figured this out and build robust systems of care that enable every adult who wants to work to be in the labor market to be there.
So when we talk about the need to create—and then it's also the care sector is huge and the job growth potential is larger than any other sector of the economy, particularly in the long-term care sector. So I would just say we have a moral and economic imperative to invest in the care sector if we want to build a more equitable society, and it needs to be at the same level of how we prioritize roads and bridges. But there's an added complexity with building out the care sector which is in contrast to those traditional infrastructure jobs. These are jobs that are very underpaid and often very precarious. There has to be a robust job quality strategy that goes with that, those investments, much more intentionally than with the traditional infrastructure jobs. And I'll leave that as a point that perhaps I can follow up on later and build out if that would be appropriate. So the double hitting is sort of heavy.
Van Horn: That's great, so all good stuff. If I could, I want to go back to you, Kisha, now. I mean one of the questions that arises about this is as we understand the disproportionate treatment of minorities and incarceration and returning to society, how do we make sure that they also get an opportunity to take advantage of these because there's some obviously been, historically, some rules that make it difficult for them to get back into the labor market, especially young people who might have been incarcerated for possession of small amounts of marijuana, which is true in many states, as true in New Jersey. Now they're coming out of incarceration wanting to enter an apprenticeship program, get into a good career.
Bird: Thank you for that question, and thank you, Mary Alice, for your comments. I'd like to jump on that as well Carl, in terms of …
Bird:...thinking about infrastructure broadly in terms of the care economy, traditional roads, bridges, bricks and mortar, but also community development and the ways in which young people, people of color, and folks in community build back civically engaged residents engaged, as well as the way in which they rebuild their built environment. So there's a number of different ways to really think about infrastructure, and a lot of those things are already happening in communities. The question is, what is the role of the federal government in terms of what they're thinking about using this program and supporting those efforts and expanding them? To directly answer your question, I think when we think about these opportunities, when we think even about subsidized jobs, we have to make sure that we are also addressing the structural barriers that any of the workers or would-be workers already face. And one of those is folks who have been impacted by the criminal justice system, whether that's incarceration, whether that's on probation, whether that's having a record; you mitigate those barriers as collateral consequences.
So they may look something as small as working directly with employers who think about insurance, an increased wage, and requirements and qualifications to some of the jobs that will be available. It could look like some of the programs that Mary Alice and Brad mentioned to make sure that it is directly recruiting and partnering with probation, Department of Justice, corrections, parole systems, in terms of recruitment, and then and then removing any kind of requirement that would preclude those folks from being a part of the pathway, whether its preapprenticeship or apprenticeship. It could also look like really examining what are the occupations and industries that we're focusing on in terms of this infrastructure. So we know there may be some barriers if we’re talking about in the care economy, and childcare specifically, that we know family based childcare and so forth, may have folks who have been impacted by the criminal justice system, who are playing these roles but the systems, in terms of the policies that may be in place in states, may preclude them from being a part of whatever investments may come up.
So we have to really, one, we keep saying intentional but it’s important, and it's not just focusing on them, but then examining the policies that one by one, is this a behavior? Is this a policy? Do we need to change it at the institutional level or the state level? Can we issue guidance or regulation, or do we need legislation? And Illinois has done really good work in really thinking about this critically in a number of different ways. You mentioned marijuana or cannabis; they've done a lot of work in reducing the collateral consequences. Some of our partners with Heartland Alliance as part of our BETS group has really sought to tackle this in a very intentional way with a number of different partners.
Van Horn: Great, thank you Kisha. Brad, I mean I certainly am familiar with union programs in New Jersey that have done a very good job of addressing the very questions that I asked to Kisha. Could you give us a view from your perspective about how organized labor is handling some of these issues of getting people back into the labor market after maybe struggling early on in their careers and their life?
Markell: Don't say it; I was on mute, but I caught it. This redemption is a real thing, right? And people don't always get to start at the same starting line as everybody else in life, and Kisha talked a little bit about sort of the wraparound support services and being able to address that individual or their situation. And it's a little too blasé to say it's like a cafeteria, but at some level it is, right? Because some people need child support, some people need to find a place to live, and other people don't have a car, right? And so you can be successful by helping people work through themselves, how they want to approach it, and what is going to work for them in a structured environment.
So there's a place in California—Lancaster, California—where BYD has an electric bus factory, and the union and the lane and Jobs to Move America, we were able to get together and put together a community benefits agreement that said, "We're going to give a lot of people training before they hire and give them a little taste, right?" And part of it is honestly, and Kisha mentioned the employer connection. Outside of construction, the employer, that like the employers are making all the decisions, right? So you can get into a construction apprenticeship if the union picks you, but that’s part of the issue that has been over the years. But in manufacturing, the employer has to decide to take you, right?
So we can put people through what is essentially a manufacturing pre-apprenticeship, community college classes and things like that, and hope the employer takes them. And so this sort of notion that there needs to be a little bit more structure, some commitment on the employer side, that bus plant has a reentry population over, over 20 percent and [for] the people that stick, factory work is not easy. If anybody's ever been or worked in a factory—there's a level of discipline, right? When BYD says this line starts at 7 a.m., they don't mean 7:01, they mean seven. And so but still 70, 75 percent of the folks that hire in are sticking in their job, and it's a $20, $23 an hour job. So I just think taking the souls one at a time, figuring out what works, and then making sure that the resources are there.
Van Horn: I mean one of the questions which I can move there, Mary Alice, on this is really what you've obviously done a tremendous amount of work on community colleges. And what role do you think they need to play? I mean obviously, we've all talked about how we need jobs, not just training. What's the role that they can play in helping people move into these jobs? For example, whether it's in the climate economy, or the care economy or construction management, etcetera. What are the opportunities that community colleges can bring to bear? We have a great advocate for community colleges now living in a White House. So we know that that we'll get an emphasis as it probably should, but what have you learned from your work about how we can make that connection work?
McCarthy: Yeah, thank you Carl. And yeah, I think we all know community colleges are critical players and will be critical players in this economic recovery. They are sort of first responders to the unemployed and the often underemployed on the front lines, and they're, frankly, a little bit more accessible than trying to find an apprenticeship program sometimes, which can be a little bit harder to find, and are just evenly distributed around the country. We have community colleges in every community, in every state across the country. So community colleges were a big part of our response to the Great Recession. I think we learned from that, too, about what were the things that community colleges could do that were particularly effective.
I think one of the biggest lessons from our investments in the community college during the Great Recession, which it's not just enough to sort of get people enrolled, right? Getting them into college is not going to be enough, right? And there need to be investments and resources from the federal government to help the community colleges build out the kinds of support services that we've been talking about. This is particularly true for adults who have been out of school for a very long time and are unfamiliar with this environment. So things like counseling, and navigation, and coaching are just critically important, and they're hard to fund. They're difficult for community colleges to fund. That's one critical element. Also, building the capacity of community colleges to take people in, sort of help them understand what they already know and sort of pull that out from them. So that then they can actually get some credit for that and have a little bit of a head start toward whatever credential it is that they're working toward. And then we need to make sure that community colleges have the resources and the capacity to know what's going on in their local labor market.
Again, there's not always resources for that. If all we focus on is sort of getting people into college, we sometimes undervalue these really important capacity building investments that allow colleges to be smart about their local economy, to build the kinds of relationships with employers that really work. I’d also say community colleges can be really valuable partners with apprenticeship programs, particularly in for occupations and professions outside the traditional building trades where career advancement is probably going to require a college degree or some sort of educational credential down the road. And so we're seeing a lot of our degree apprenticeship programs and community college apprenticeship programs, I think, also holds a lot of promise and should be at the front lines here.
Van Horn: Yeah, and I will just comment based on what I've seen. I think they can play a very helpful role in pre-apprenticeship training because there are a lot of young people that don't have, for example, the math skills to get into an apprenticeship in the trades. That people don't, many people don't understand that the days of just hammer and screwdriver are not sufficient to do the job that we ask our folks to do. And so those preapprenticeship programs are so important to help people begin the road toward a career. One of the questions you may all want to comment on that came through from one of our audience members here. They asked what, they've said there seem to be some concerns about the quality of apprenticeship jobs, really, that that result from these. And I know you all are very familiar with that. Anyone want to comment on that? What the end point is when you go through an apprenticeship program. What is the quality of the opportunity that could be at the other end of that experience? Brad, do you want to take that?
Markell: I guess that's me first, right?
Van Horn: Sure.
Markell: It depends what kind of apprenticeship we're talking about, right? There are some nontraditional apprenticeships in occupations in sectors where the pay is not as high that it can be, right? So folks are using, for example, apprenticeship models to get people into nursing and SEIU in 1199, AFSCME 1199, which are huge health care unions with tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of members, do a good job at that. But it's because there's a good solid job behind it, right? And the evidence now is that we just don't have like a skills gap, if you will, which we'll set that aside so we don't burn the whole rest of the time debating that. But job quality gap is the thing we have, right? So that's like the supply of skills is one thing, the supply of quality jobs, right?
If somebody moves up the chain into a nicer job, guess what? That bad job is still sitting there. So you see, for example, truck driving apprenticeships. Well, truck driving became bad job a long time ago, right? Twenty, 30 years ago when it was deregulated, and it's very difficult to make a decent living and have a life as a truck driver. On the other hand, if you get into construction and you're going to become an apprentice electrician, or an apprentice welder, boiler maker, something like that, you're headed for a four-year program that you come out of with no debt, and you start making $45,000, $50,000 a year, and when you're done, you're making $80,000, $90,000 a year. And that's like, full benefits, no debt.
So that could be a very good model. In general, because so many registered apprenticeships are in the construction sector, that is actually the predominant mode of who gets into an apprenticeship. But we just don't have enough of them, right? We don't have enough opportunities, and I'm a big, big believer in place-based strategies. You have to start with the place you're at and the investment that's flowing, and then start to work on who is going to get those opportunities.
Van Horn: Kisha.
Bird: Yeah, I'll jump in here. We talked also about preapprenticeships, and we spent our time really thinking about what makes those quality, whether it's for young people who have little work experience, those impacted by the criminal justice system, and a whole host of folks. And so a part of that, and Brad, thank you for saying that we have to raise the floor on jobs period, right? And so as we raise the floor, our entry level jobs we can't just say, "Oh, these are crap jobs because they're entry level jobs." Because we know many folks are relegated to them, for example, for their whole career. So we have to raise the floor. And so when we think about preapprenticeships, we have to think about a couple of different things. One is that you cannot just rely on employers and/or unions and/or community colleges going along. I'm also a big proponent of partnerships. And what we've seen at the local level really is the folks in their own lanes but playing a role in terms of supporting pathways to quality.
So that really includes a strong intermediary or a strong community-based organization who is supporting the worker or the would-be worker or the trainee; that also really also includes making sure that the workforce development system and/or employer industries or so forth, that you are partnering with those industries that have high-road employers, that are really thinking about advancement and the whole worker, not just, you know, their bottom line. And then the third thing is that you do have to bake in accountability, and so how do we bake in accountability? You could do it in a number of different ways. One, in terms of you mentioned community benefit agreements, that's one accountability lever. But there are other ways to do accountability in terms of percentages targeting. There's a lot of models around the country that can be scaled. And I do believe in place-based too that can be scaled, from supporting folks who are in reentry population. And there's a couple of examples from the L.A. city that do that. And there's also some examples in Louisville, for example, that are thinking about the nontraditional apprenticeships that are in actually the youth development sector. Again, that also have credentials tied to them at community colleges and so forth.
So we can really think about this in a broad way so that we are also placing and centering where young people or where workers or would-be workers want to go in their different pathways that they're in. So that's one way at also getting that quality, not just putting folks in a track because that's where we want them to be, but ensuring that there are a number of different options that are quality pathways to jobs, to benefits, and ultimately, hopefully, a more economic, secure life.
Van Horn: Yeah, I think one of the issues that comes up anytime we have a new program, which presumably would be many of these would-be new programs, is how do you structure them in a way to ensure that all the things we've talked about so far would actually happen? And clearly, there are going to be different types of infrastructure investments. Some may be very large, giant infrastructure projects—let's say building a new airport—but others are going to be much smaller in scope. And so I guess [inaudible] in the traditional bricks and mortar side. So I guess I'm asking you a tough question but I'm interested; you're all really smart people. What is the way to structure these programs coming out of the federal government to ensure that some of the goals we've just talked about the last half hour are achieved? In other words, what's the right structure to make that happen?
McCarthy: I'll do my best, and then pass it over to Kisha and Brad for their thoughts, but I mean, I do think this should echo some thoughts that we've already said. It's important to empower local communities to make some of these decisions because they're sort of on the ground and most aware of how to make sure that these opportunities reach the folks that need them most and how to direct these dollars. So I do think when we're thinking about federal dollars making their way into to support local infrastructure projects, we need to think about where they're going to land and make sure that they are going to sort of authorities that are in touch with a wide range of different community stakeholders. And that there are things like project labor agreements and community benefits agreements that are sort of an expected sort of outcome of, as these projects are developed or implemented, there is an expectation that these kinds of agreements are reached around or targeted hiring practices, training strategies, that do in fact make them inclusive, and that are tracked.
Again, I do think we don't want federal mandates. That's not likely to work well, but I do think there needs to be very high level, very clear and intentional goals about how these investments in infrastructure support high quality employment opportunities for communities that need them most. But then that needs to be... the implementation and decisions need to be devolved on the state level then to the local communities. But there really does need to be a lot of emphasis on data collection and just sort of tracking what's happening to keep things on track because this is hard to do. And I will just... last point would be that importance of investing in an intermediary that can keep track of everything and keep all of these different stakeholders from the education side, the business side, to the government side, communicating with one another is also just the critical point and too often overlooked.
Markell: Well, as somebody who runs an intermediary, I could not agree more with that last point. It's an absolutely key part of the workforce system that should be invested in. But on a less humorous note perhaps. That if you don't set goals, you can't get where you want to go, right? And so yeah, you could say African Americans are 12 or 13 percent of the population. So we should be hiring 12 or 13... No, we're behind. We need to hire more, right? So you're not going to get there just by saying, "OK, after being behind for decades, I will come up level now and see how that works." The things that happened in California and the things that happened in L.A. didn't happen in a vacuum.
They happen on the back of a lot of activism and a lot of agitation, and so even if there's not a sort of federal requirement, local actors are going to put local pressure and people are going to have to step up, right? So there's a new Chrysler plant in Detroit, and Mayor Duggan gave them the land and said, "You can train people, but guess what? You're hiring all Detroiters, every last one of them."
So four thousand and something people are now going to get a good union job starting at 19 and going to 32. And then, to go back to the investment team, it matters what we invest, we'll tell you where it's going to land, right? So if we're going to switch over to EVs, we have to make sure that we're going across every neighborhood, every city, and that there's going to be EV charging stations, right? Not just where somebody can afford to do it on their own dime; that's an equity type of thing. If I want to create jobs in urban areas, I should probably say, "Hey, aren't there places all over that don't have clean water and don't have good sewage?" And we invest in that and you're investing in the places that have the need, turns out you're investing where the people have a need for a job, too. We say this about just transition in the energy sector, right? You want to help laid off coal miners—put some money to clean the old coal mines up, it's right in their community.
So that's that sort of thing like where do people have need? Probably winds up pretty well where people need a job.
Bird: Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Yeah, I'll jump in. Brad, you're speaking my language. That's why I was talking about community development. There's all different ways to be creative. But I'd be remiss if I didn't have mentioned specifically that we really need to be thinking about subsidized employment and public sector employment. And that's one of the things that we need immediately for this recovery for all the populations that we're talking about where education and training to good jobs as a part of that. But folks also need wages, they need income right now, and you can do a couple of things with subsidized employment. One, you're both gaining critical work experience. With many of the young people we've worked with over the years in terms of our partnership and also our research, when we talk to young women of color, young men of color, a couple of things come up. What do you think holds you back?
What are some of the structural barriers that hold you back from getting a job, keeping a job and so forth? One thing they say, number one, work experience. Second thing [is] having a reference, having somebody to vouch for them. And when we have an economy where so many folks are unemployed, so many folks are underemployed, we have to be able as the public sector, right, in terms of our public policy, state and local governments are strapped for cash. So how does the federal government support these subsidized employment programs and job strategies to make sure young people now and into the future have that kind of economic stability and mobility? And we learned a lot as Mary Alice said from what we didn't do with the Great Recession. And now we have those folks who were in their 20s now struggling and still, in many ways underwater, and figuring things out into their 30s and even early 40s because we didn't make one of the critical investments. They weren't large enough, they weren't intentional enough, they weren't community driven enough and they weren't long term enough to really support that generation. And so that's for now and all the way into our future.
Van Horn: Great, I mean we're... as I promised earlier, we have a great panel and you can see and listen to them and what they're saying that I was right about that. I want to ask you, we have about five minutes left. As you all... I think all of you have testified before committee in the Congress and you know what happens, a little light goes on and you have to sum up. If you had just two or three things to say to the chairs of these committees or their staff about how to structure the infrastructure programs, what kinds of programs they should be, what would you have to say? Who wants to go first?
Markell: I'll go first.
Van Horn: Thanks Brad.
Markell: One, we have to invest in infrastructure that rebuilds the things that are broken and need repairing in our country. But we also have to invest in the kind of modernizing infrastructure that is going to pull our economy forward. Whether that's 5G, my personal favorite high-speed rail, clean energy, electric transmission, all those kind of things that are going to enable the next set of technologies that were so important to America, like rail, like highway, like the telephone system, all that stuff. There's a 21st century version of every bit of that.
Secondly, be specific about where you're investing. Don't just throw it open; don't throw a bunch of money to states because if you throw a bunch of money to Kentucky, I can guarantee you it is not going to land right. It’s not going to land the way we're talking about it here today. And then I would say, third, really pay attention to the backward linkages in the economy. So for example, if we do sourcing right, a big infrastructure package creates as many jobs in manufacturing as it does in construction. And that's the type like even if your project is out someplace—it's a bridge in the middle of nowhere, so to speak—the steel is going to be made at a steel plant that's probably has a diverse workforce and has a lot of opportunity, right? So those are the sorts of things. Understand that we have to catch up and we have to modernize and then really be intentional about where you're spreading that money around so it lands where you want it to.
Van Horn: Kisha, you want to go next?
Bird: Yeah, and we'll leave Mary Alice for the last word. I'm being a little bit repetitive, but I think targeting and when we think about equity, we have to think about race, gender, ability and geography as Brad said, and we have to also think about the ways in which a city or community may seem affluent but we know the various census tracts as gentrification has proliferated many communities that folks don't... that they also get those opportunities. So equity, thinking about race, gender, ability, geography, and what that means in terms of targeting eligibility and types of partners that are in the ecosystem. The second: We heard a lot of different strategies, we know what works, there's a body of research, communities who are implementing these programs from preapprenticeships to apprenticeships, other earn and learn strategies and work-based models that we should be targeting investments that are both about pathways to jobs as well as supporting the job creation that we all talked about. And then the third thing, if we structure this program right and being intentional, we have to pay attention to the structural barriers, or it will not reach the communities and the people that we're talking about today. So that's anywhere from support or services, to navigation.
So actually removing and incentivizing the removal of particular barriers, for example, people with records. So I'll leave it there, and turn it over to Mary Alice.
McCarthy: And I will second to everything that has been said before me and add three more things. I do want to come back to with the big infrastructure bill, the importance though of prioritizing the kinds of community service jobs and subsidized jobs, employment as part of that, and subsidized jobs programs that can be implemented quickly, right? Now, it takes a long time to get roads and bridges projects under way, but we've got a lot of people who are hurting, and we know that the longer people are unemployed, the harder it is for them to ever get back to work. So per the brief that Carl and I just released today, it is not... we should really carve out a community service jobs program with subsidized employment opportunities in an infrastructure bill and let communities put that to work to get the long-term and structurally unemployed to work first. Because getting people connected to jobs needs to be the first priority.
Number two, please don't forget about the care economy and please don't wait for the care economy to come second, after infrastructure. It is infrastructure, right? Care is part of our infrastructure; we can't live without it. We just have gotten used to not paying for it. So we need to lift it up, it needs to be part of this bill, and it needs to start with it's going to be a, I think, a decade's long strategy of really raising the pay and quality of these jobs and building out a high quality system. And number three, I think we need to think about how to make sure that these investments empower workers and empower worker voice, and how do we structure them in ways so that worker-led organizations really have a lot of say.
The kinds of community benefits agreements that Brad was talking about and the kinds of outcomes that Kisha's talking about require really strong voices on the ground. And so we need to make sure that those workers and those advocates are protected and to the degree possible sort of preferred or something... that's not quite the right word, but they are an important part of the strategy and that the investments are crafted in a way that give them a seat at the table and make them sort of codesigners of these kinds of projects.
Markell: So I'm going to reclaim a touch of time, about 30 seconds Carl.
Van Horn: Go ahead Brad.
Markell: There's another piece of this that I maybe should have mentioned a little more practical than what I was saying perhaps. One of the things that President Trump has been saying in a couple places is if we look at the deferred maintenance backlog in transit systems in the northeast and places like that, and if we look at capital improvement backlogs as city and county and state governments have kind of already got on the books, and they don't know how to fund it, those are things that can be a little bit on the quick-start side to get people back to work.
Van Horn: Thank you. I think those are great summaries, and I think the gavel is coming down. Now we're going to turn it back to Sarah or Stuart. Thank you all for listening, very informative. Thanks very much, Sarah Miller?
Sarah Miller: Yes, thank you Carl. Thanks so much and I can't echo enough how fascinating this panel is, how intelligent my colleagues are. I have the great good fortune of working here at the Atlanta Fed at the Center for Workforce and Economic Opportunity, and certainly in conjunction with the Better Employment and Training Task Force, the BETS Task Force. We could talk about these topics all day long as you can see; it quite, quite truly runs the gamut of different approaches from the very deeply community-based to the to the broader federal investments. So I've dropped in the chat there, the brief that Carl mentioned that was penned by him and Mary Alice that just came out today.
We think the timing of both this conversation, that brief, and the importance of this investment on the Biden administration's agenda is very apropos. I hope the conversation today gave you a lot to think about. We're not able to get to all of your questions, but we will be able to follow up with those after the fact in some post-session materials. So let me give just a little bit of housekeeping, and then I'll give you a brief on what we have to come later in 2021. We're going into a kind of routine media blackout period for the Federal Reserve System. So we will be able to blast out to all of you a recording of this session, a full digestive of the discussion, and the questions both that Carl had posed and that we triage through the audience.
So thank you again for your participation. We want these conversations to be just that, conversational. So your engagement is critical to that and to the lushness of these conversations. So that post-session material will be coming out in about a week and a half; please look for that on email. And then as we move through 2021, there are a number of various BETS briefs essentially that we are going to be putting out there into the world that we hope that's going to drive a lot of conversation and certainly a discussion of both on the Hill but also in all of the work that you all are doing every single day. So we will be pushing those out through the Center's channels; we will be uplifting those messages and hopefully tracking some legislative action that comes out of those throughout the 2021 series of the Ask Us Anything session.
So we will be having these conversations roughly every other month through the end of the year. We are now scheduling our conversation slotted for May, and we will focus that discussion on workforce reform in jobs and labor policy. So we're getting that on calendars now. We will get that notice out to you as soon as we have a date secured and speakers on that dais for that conversation, and we hope that you'll be able to join us then and throughout the rest of the year. With that I will give you back about two minutes of your hour, but I want to thank you very much for joining us today.
Again, as Stu mentioned, happy new year to those that we haven't talked to yet. Here's to a great 2021, and we really look forward to continuing this virtual conversation and hopefully seeing you in person again someday. So thank you again to my esteemed panelists and to all of you for your participation, have a great afternoon.