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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It’s time for Louisiana to raise the wage

As workers struggle to keep up with rising costs, Louisiana continues to be one of only five states without a state minimum wage. This means many workers in our state continue to work for the $7.25 federal minimum wage, which has not been raised since 2009. Over the last 13 years, increases in the cost of living have eroded the purchasing power of that $7.25 by about 25%.


The Crisis in Milwaukee’s Service Industry

  • February 16, 2022
  • COWS
  • Laura Dresser, Pablo Aquiles-Sanchez, and Adam Kanter

There’s a crisis in service work in Milwaukee. Too many of these jobs—in food service, janitorial work, security services, and human and health services—offer low wages, inadequate and often unpredictable hours, and benefits packages that are usually weak, if they exist at all. For Milwaukee, these jobs have been a sorry replacement for the good union manufacturing jobs that once defined opportunity in the city. This economic transformation has especially damaged Milwaukee’s Black community, resulting in extreme racial disparity.

All of this was well documented before COVID-19. In the last two years, the underlying crisis in these jobs has been exposed and it has grown. Until we build a strong, consistent floor of better wages, more predictable hours, and stronger benefits in these jobs, the crisis will continue.

The City of Milwaukee can help to lead this effort. In every aspect of policy, the City can seek to strengthen job quality, raise labor standards, and support and build a high-road approach to service work in the city


CEO Pay Report 2021

A thriving community depends on the work of everyone, from the retail clerk who greets customers to the janitor who cleans the countertop. But for decades, corporate executives held down pay for the typical Ohio worker, while they lavished enormous pay growth on themselves. Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the disparity is as glaring as ever: While Ohioans on the frontlines continue to do vital work months after hazard pay ended — if they ever got it — CEOs in 2020 took home windfall gains from stock price growth. CEOs’ pay reflects their privileged status to set their own pay, and it further separates the fortunes of the wealthiest from the rest of us.

Among 54 of Ohio’s 100 largest employers that reported to the Securities & Exchange Commission, the median chief executive officer was paid 322 times the rate of the median worker at the same company last year. More than two-thirds of the reporting corporations paid their CEO more than 200 times what they paid typical employees. One-third paid their CEO more than 500 times as much, and seven companies paid their CEO more than 1,000 times more than their median employee.


10-Point Plan for Texas Unemployment Insurance Reform

When crisis and calamity take jobs away, the market economy alone cannot provide working people the help they need to make ends meet. That is where the Texas Unemployment Insurance system comes in. While the magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented, overwhelming the Texas Workforce Commission’s ability to serve applicants on a timely basis, it has also exposed structural weaknesses in the system. The millions of workers who lost jobs through layoffs or furloughs have had extraordinary difficulty applying for and accessing benefits. To modernize a critical earned benefit and better serve the needs of Texans, the Texas AFL-CIO and Every Texan (formerly known as the Center for Public Policy Priorities) propose the following reforms.