Unpacking the ‘Future of Work’: Roosevelt Institute Panel, New Report Highlights Challenges for 21st Century Workers

New report and speakers from Roosevelt Institute, Economic Security Project, National Women’s Law Center, and Restaurant Opportunities Centers United explore workers’ economic insecurity

WASHINGTON, DC – Amid profound threats to labor rights and the changing 21st century economy, the Roosevelt Institute today released a new report, Left Behind: Snapshots from the 21st Century Labor Market, documenting American workers’ economic vulnerability and outlining recommendations for a more equitable economy. This research will be featured at a panel hosted by Roosevelt experts this morning, along with experts from the Economic Security Project, the National Women’s Law Center, and Restaurant Opportunities Centers United. From stagnant wages to job instability, the panel will examine the pressures workers face across the country and the root causes of these challenges.

In researching the state of worker well-being, report authors Rakeen Mabud, Program Director at the Roosevelt Institute, and Jess Forden, Program Associate at the Roosevelt Institute, investigated the many factors contributing to economic insecurity for American workers through the lens of six industries: care work, food services, manufacturing, mining, nursing, and trucking. Through snapshots of these industries, they show how different factors including declining worker power, outsized power at the top of the economy, technological change, globalization, and structural discrimination are interlinked, leading to stagnant wages and inadequate living standards for workers.

“The real threat to workers is not globalization or technological change. Rather, the interlinked processes of the long term decline in worker voice, combined with a rampant increase in corporate power and employer power over workers, has resulted in deep economic insecurity across the country.” said Rakeen Mabud, Program Director at the Roosevelt Institute. “The economic disenfranchisement of workers has occurred across industries, and this reality paints a concerning vision for the future. We need bold reforms to ensure that working people are not left behind by a changing economy.”

In crafting a 21st century social contract to remedy widespread economic insecurity, Mabud and Forden argue for policies that build worker power by strengthening labor laws, curb corporate and employer power to give workers greater agency in the workplace and economy, and redefine government’s role in addressing economic insecurity by implementing policies that build an economy that serves everyone, not just those at the top.

“New Deal-era policies that enabled a fairer distribution of wealth have been eroded. Despite massive gains in international trade and innovation in the 21st century, workers have not seen their fair share of the wealth they have helped create,” said Jess Forden, Program Associate at the Roosevelt Institute. “An updated, inclusive social contract for the 21st century requires more power for workers that enables them to shape economic policy and corporate decision-making.”

The Roosevelt Institute is a leader in challenging conventional narratives about the future of work. Earlier this year, the Roosevelt Institute released Don’t Fear the Robots: Why Automation Doesn’t Mean the End of Work, which showed how large-scale automation does not inevitably cause mass unemployment and economic insecurity. In 2017, Mabud co-authored Wired: Connecting Equity to a Universal Broadband Strategy, a report examining the necessity of digital equity in the 21st century economy and the ways that corporate concentration interacts with structural racism to create inequitable outcomes for communities of color. In Seven Strategies to Rebuild Worker Power for the 21st Century Global Economy, Roosevelt argues for an international labor agreement, among other proposals, in order to center workers in global policymaking.

About the Roosevelt Institute

Until the rules work for every American, they’re not working. The Roosevelt Institute asks: what does a better society look like? Armed with a bold vision for the future, we push the economic and social debate forward. We believe that those at the top hold too much power and wealth, and that our economy will be stronger when that changes. Ultimately, we want our work to move the country toward a new economic and political system: one built by many for the good of all.

It takes all of us to rewrite the rules. From emerging leaders to Nobel laureate economists, we’ve built a network of thousands. At Roosevelt, we make influencers more thoughtful and thinkers more influential. We also celebrate—and are inspired by—those whose work embodies the values of both Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and carries their vision forward today.