The Promise of Work

Equitable. Sustainable. Inclusive.


Achieving the Promise of Work evolves from the Institute for Work & the Economy’s 2017 conference: The Many Futures of Work: Possibilities and Perils (, where we brought together people from across a broad spectrum of interests and expertise to address the factors driving the diminution of middle-income jobs. Working together, we arrived at policies and practices that propose to transform the current trajectory away from low-wage, unstable jobs and towards jobs that lead to greater equity, prosperity and inclusion.

The 2017 conference was – and continues to be – a departure from other public conversations and conferences about changes in the structure of work and the factors driving change. These other events mostly involve policy makers, academic researchers, and well-represented interest groups, and largely leave under-represented communities of people who are experiencing first-hand the consequences of changes in work structures. Too often, workers are objectified and their agency is denied, and policymaking is made inaccessible and remote. The conference was the first step in rectifying these imbalances.

Guiding Principles

The Framework for Prosperity sets out our vision. Our path forward is guided by six principles of equal weight:

  • Business must honor its six key stakeholders:

    • Customers

    • Employees

    • Vendors and suppliers

    • The communities in which they operate

    • Shareholders, and

    • The enterprise itself.

      Policies that give primacy to shareholders result in large distributions of corporate cash. This puts businesses, their workers, and suppliers on ultimately unsustainable paths

  • We collectively must respect and recognize workers’ standing in determining fair and equitable policies and practices. A goal is for workers to be effective partners in determining how work is organized, performed, and compensated

  • Government’s role is to set rules that:

    • Assure an equitable distribution of resources and opportunities

    • Advance the welfare of whole communities as well as their members

    • Honor and level the playing field for all six key stakeholders of business

  • Advanced innovations and technologies should:

    • Augment the productive and creative capacities of workers

    • Expand the possibilities of what can be created

    • Offer the promise of greater economic growth, sustainable employment security, and mitigation of the adverse consequence brought about by hard choices

  • We must give primacy to undoing structural racism and other insidious biases, such as gender inequality, discrimination on the basis of sexual identity, barriers related to age and disability, bias against and the unfair treatment of immigrants, prejudices against veterans, and impediments for those who were previously incarcerated and are returning citizens.

    Structural biases continue to create inequitable outcomes as long as they remain unchallenged and unresolved. Discrimination is also inefficient as well as unjust in that it systematically and fraudulently undervalues the talent and capabilities of groups of people

  • We must recognize and respect the lifetime arc of a career as a core element of a person’s identity and sense of self-worth. A career may be comprised of many jobs and is unlikely to follow a straight, lock-step path. Education and training resources need to be aligned to serve people as they navigate evolutionary changes – and sometimes revolutionary events – in work.

Framework for Prosperity

Our vision is captured by the Initiative’s Framework for Prosperity:

  • Sustainable economies characterized by a strong and vibrant private sector, and stable and equitable growth

  • Productivity growth that results in higher standards of living

  • Stable employment opportunities that enable people to be productive throughout their working lives, to always provide for their families, and later, to secure their retirements

  • Equitable sharing of income and wealth among those whose work efforts and financial resources contribute to the nation’s productivity.