Publicly funded workforce development systems and programs are primarily designed, measured and funded to move individuals into jobs as quickly as possible, with little attention to job quality beyond meeting relatively low-wage outcome targets for training programs. Public employment programs are challenged in addressing job quality. For instance:
Programs are focused on quickly moving individuals through a process to meet number served and placement goals
Service providers are not incentivized or compensated for placing workers in quality jobs
Career center coaches, case managers and job placement staff do not have a clear framework, definition or goals to help jobseekers advocate for themselves
Frontline employees (case managers, outreach workers, etc.) may themselves be in low-quality jobs
Employers have no eligibility criteria for receiving services or subsidies (unlike job seekers that go through extensive eligibility processes)
Over 4 million workers and jobseekers annually receive services through Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA) Title I and Wagner Peyser Programs by accessing a national network of nearly 2,400 American Job Centers. Despite the system's significant reach, its ability to move workers to high-quality jobs and reduce racial inequality is more limited. Data from adults using WIOA services from April 2019 through March 2020 show that Latine and Black participants placed in jobs after receiving services earned annual wages of $26,460 and $22,552, respectively, compared to $27,540 for white workers. All of these wages are below the comparable 2019 median wage of $34,248.
Why This Matters
Funders, elected leaders, businesses and government agencies all play key roles in advancing job quality, but workers' and jobseekers' experiences and priorities should anchor job quality efforts. What workers look for in a job, which jobs they take, whether they choose to organize, which jobs they quit and which careers they pursue will significantly affect the workers themselves, their families, local employers and the communities in which they live.
Jobseekers and workers in public workforce programs are better equipped to consider, identify and advocate for the job quality components important to them when they have access to the right tools, information and support. This section outlines how local and state government can set up structures to hear directly from workers while supporting staff at direct service providers such as American Job Centers.
Recommended actions can help workforce and economic development agencies advance strategies to finance their job quality strategy for the long term.