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Foreword: Boosting Wages for U.S. Workers in the New Economy

Summary:
The anemic wage growth that has characterized the U.S. economy for decades has deep structural causes that defy easy solutions. For decades, the benefits of economic growth have gravitated toward those at the very top of the income ladder, contributing to growing and increasingly dangerous economic inequality. While we Americans might value shared prosperity as a society, it will remain an elusive goal without comprehensive action to combat stagnant wages. Policy choices have led us to where we are today, and transformative new policies will be required to make real progress. The Bernard and Anne Spitzer Charitable Trust is honored to support the Washington Center for Equitable Growth and the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California,

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The anemic wage growth that has characterized the U.S. economy for decades has deep structural causes that defy easy solutions. For decades, the benefits of economic growth have gravitated toward those at the very top of the income ladder, contributing to growing and increasingly dangerous economic inequality. While we Americans might value shared prosperity as a society, it will remain an elusive goal without comprehensive action to combat stagnant wages. Policy choices have led us to where we are today, and transformative new policies will be required to make real progress.

The Bernard and Anne Spitzer Charitable Trust is honored to support the Washington Center for Equitable Growth and the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California, Berkeley in the development and publication of this book, Boosting Wages for U.S. Workers in the New Economy, which makes an important contribution to the advancement of our vision of a more equitable and sustainable economy.

As the report notes, for decades, two ideas for lifting the wages of low- and middle-income workers have been prevalent: raising the minimum wage and enhancing education. While research confirms that both are necessary and have important effects, the evidence also suggests that they are not nearly sufficient to overcome the enormous forces in the U.S. economy that exert downward pressure on wages. Those forces are so strong that even in the extraordinarily tight labor market that existed just prior to the coronavirus recession, wages barely budged.

It is clear that structural changes are needed—no single intervention will solve the problem of wage stagnation. This volume includes 10 commissioned essays by forward-looking scholars that outline a wide-ranging set of ideas for tackling this problem. The approaches presented are not confined to traditional labor or human capital issues, but generally fall under three categories:

  • Increasing worker power, which has been weakened dramatically with the decline in union membership resulting from both government policy and employer practices
  • Improving worker well-being, not only by improving access to education but also by repairing and strengthening the social programs that support families
  • Addressing the wage disparities that exist between White workers and Black and other workers of color, between men and women, between employees from different firms, and between workers in different geographic areas

This project brings together a set of labor scholars ranging across multiple disciplines—economics, sociology, management, and law—all of whom are diverse not only in race and gender, but also in the kinds of colleges and universities where they write, teach, and conduct their research. And they are diverse in another way: They are at varying points in their careers. This is a collection of established experts and rising stars with ambitious ideas and a range of perspectives.

Equitable Growth and the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment created a rigorous process to develop the project. They provided authors with feedback on their original drafts in terms of both content and presentation. They convened a half-dozen workshops, all conducted virtually amid the pandemic. And they brought together academics in the relevant fields, policy experts in Washington and elsewhere, and advocates working in the policy arena to make change. I hope you will agree that the results are outstanding.

The project is designed to provide policymakers throughout the new Congress and the new administration with an actionable agenda for transforming the U.S. economy by raising wages, reducing inequality, and producing shared prosperity.

—Jean Ross is senior program officer at the Bernard and Anne Spitzer Charitable Trust.

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