Wages, Labor Standards, and Job Quality

Every American who wants to work should be able to get a good paying job. When stable employment is available to all, it improves the welfare of the country not only because more people are working, but because at full employment, employers have to compete for personnel, raising wages for workers more broadly. Moreover, workers of color and those without four-year college degrees—who have substantially higher unemployment—gain the most when the economy approaches genuine full employment. To make employers genuinely value their low- and middle-wage workers—no matter where they live or what credentials they hold—lawmakers must pursue policies that make more jobs available, and reduce barriers to employment.

EARN groups develop and advocate for policies that will create good jobs, such as investments in infrastructure and responsible economic development programs, tailoring programs target underserved communities and areas of high unemployment. They also work to reduce barriers to employment by supporting workforce development programs with good labor standards, sector partnerships, and policies such as ban-the-box that help formerly incarcerated individuals rejoin the workforce. Lastly, EARN groups’ work to strengthen state unemployment insurance programs, so that unemployed workers have support when looking for a new job.

The vast majority of American households’ income comes from what workers receive in their paychecks – which is why wages are so important. Unfortunately, wages for most workers grew exceptionally slowly between 1979 and 2012, despite productivity—which essentially measures the economy’s potential for providing rising living standards for all—rising 64 percent. In other words, most Americans, even those with college degrees, have only been treading water—despite working more productively (and being better educated) than ever.

EARN groups provide key research and policy analysis describing how these trends have played out at the state and local levels, and what policymakers can do about it.

Job Training and Apprenticeships

Meaningful training that leads to improved skills and higher pay costs money. Read More.


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Wage Theft

Wage theft, the practice of employers failing to pay workers the full wages to which they are legally entitled, is a widespread and deep-rooted problem that directly harms millions of U.S. workers each year. Read More.

Minimum Wage

The minimum wage is a critical labor standard meant to ensure a fair wage for even the lowest paid workers. EARN groups have provided research and policy guidance for minimum wage laws passed in of states, cities, and counties across the country. Read more.


Overtime pay rules ensure that most workers who put in more than 40 hours a week get paid 1.5 times their regular pay for the extra hours they work. Almost all hourly workers are automatically eligible for overtime pay, but salaried workers are only automatically eligible for overtime pay if they make below a certain salary threshold, and that threshold has been so eroded by inflation that dramatically fewer workers qualify today than they did in 1975. Read More.

Worker Misclassification

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Paid Sick, Family, and Medical Leave

Paid family leave and paid sick leave enable workers to take time off for the arrival of a child, or a serious health condition affecting themselves or a relative, without forcing them to choose between work and family.

There is no federal law that ensures all workers are able to earn paid sick days in the United States. EARN groups are working to enact state and local laws to ensure workers can take time off when they are sick. Read more.

Unemployment Insurance

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Work Hours and Fair Scheduling

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