Economic Security Conference Keynote/Paper Sessions

Old Assumptions, New Realities: Economic Security for Working Families in the 21st Century



Jacob Hacker, Professor of Political Science, University of California Berkeley,
and co-director of the forthcoming Center for Health, Economic, and Family Security at UC Berkeley.

View Professor Hacker's Address:


Creating Opportunity at the Bottom: The Role of Skill Development and Firm Level Policies in Improving Outcomes for Low Wage Employees

The bulk of public policy aimed at improving earnings focuses on the characteristics of individuals, i.e., improving either their human capital or the incentives that they face. This approach is certainly reasonable and should be encouraged, but it is incomplete. A substantial part of the problem is the quality of jobs that firms make available to low wage adults. Many of these jobs are inadequate on a number of dimensions and there is evidence that firms, under intense competitive pressure and in an environment of decreased regulation, are degrading employment even more. Paul Osterman reviewed policies that give firms subsidies and regulatory incentives to upgrade the quality of their employment and that combine these incentives with assistance in doing so. He surveyed the landscape of these various initiatives, reviewed our experience with them, and made recommendations for policy in the short- and longer- term.

Presenter: Paul Osterman, Professor of Human Resources and Management, MIT Sloan School of Management

Discussant: Barbara Reskin, S. Frank Miyamoto Professor of Sociology, University of Washington

Discussant: Kris Stadelman, Chief Executive Officer, Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County


The Skills Question and Public Policy: Addressing Changing Skill Requirements and Market Frictions through Workforce Development for Less Educated Workers

This session will address the argument advanced by many that changes in the kinds, locations, and skills of jobs have disproportionately harmed large segments of less-educated workers, whose investments in human capital accumulation have not kept pace with these changes. Michael A. Stoll evaluated old assumptions about the skills debate that have driven past policy efforts to advance human capital development through within- and out-of-school approaches, and assessed promising reforms to improve labor market success in light of new research insights about the challenges of less-educated workers.

Presenter: Michael A. Stoll, Chair, Department of Public Policy and Professor of Public Policy and Urban Planning, UCLA

Discussant: Rucker Johnson, Assistant Professor of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley

Discussant: Mary Jean Ryan, Director, Office of Policy and Management, City of Seattle


Asset Based Policies and Financial Services: Toward Fairness and Inclusion

Although income has been the standard measure of poverty and well-being, there is a growing body of evidence that asset holding, independent of income, also affects economic and social well-being of households and outcomes for children. With changes in the post-industrial economy, it seems likely that the role of assets in household well-being will continue to be important and may grow more important over time. Partly in response to the changes in economic conditions, social policy in recent decades has shifted toward asset accumulation. Today, asset-based policy is robust. But this policy operates on the tax side of fiscal policy and receives less attention than direct expenditures. Unfortunately, asset-based policy is enormously regressive; the poor receive almost none of these public benefits. Michael Sherraden addressed emerging proposals and policy tests to include the poor in asset-based policy in the form of progressive individual development accounts, child development accounts, and other inclusive strategies.

Paper: Asset Based Policies and Financial Services: Toward Fairness and Inclusion [pdf]

Presenter:  Michael Sherraden, Benjamin E. Youngdahl Professor of Social Development, Washington University in St. Louis

Discussant: Marieka Klawitter, Associate Professor of Public Affairs, University of Washington

Discussant: Jennifer Romich, Assistant Professor of Social Work, University of Washington. Principal Investigator, Ethnographic Study of Seattle Asset Building Initiative


Ensuring that American Families Can Succeed at Home and at Work in a Global Economy

When the Social Security Act was passed in 1935, U.S. families organized their home and working lives in a society with far different social norms and market conditions from today's. Jody Heymann and Guilia El-Dardiry spoke to policies that help families achieve economic security and reconcile the demands of working and caring in the context of a competitive globalized economy.

Presenter: Jody Heymann, Professor of Political Science and Canada Research Chair in Global Health and Social Policy, joint with Epidemiology and Biostatistics, McGill University

Presenter: Giulia El-Dardiry, Research Assistant with the Institute for Health and Social Policy at McGill University

Discussant: Anna Haley-Lock, Assistant Professor of Social Work, University of Washington

Discussant: Marilyn Watkins, Policy Director, Economic Opportunity Institute


Helping Hands for the Working Poor: The Role of Nonprofits in Today's Safety net

The manner in which we provide safety net assistance to working age poor adults has changed dramatically in the past forty years. Several features of the “new” service-based safety net or welfare state have gone overlooked and many of our working assumptions about the safety net no longer hold. Once rooted in the federal government and cash assistance, the funding and delivery of social service programs is now fragmented across hundreds of different service programs, thousands of federal, state, and local agencies, and tens of thousands of local nonprofit organizations. Moreover, even though social services are often viewed as “person-based” assistance, poor people’s access to such services varies spatially because local governmental and nonprofit agencies are more likely to locate in certain areas than others. Scott W. Allard examined the re-emergence of secular and faith-based nonprofits in the American safety net and their implications for public policy. He examined the features of communities and nonprofits that best provide accessible and reliable services for the working poor; integration of secular and religious nonprofits into local safety nets; and federal, state, and local actions that might make social service programs more accessible to working poor populations.

Paper: Helping Hands for the Working Poor: The Role of Nonprofits in Today's Safety Net [pdf]

Presenter: Scott W. Allard, Associate Professor of School of Social Service Administration, University of Chicago

Discussant: Steven R. Smith, Nancy Bell Evans Professor of Public Affairs, University of Washington, Director, Nancy Bell Evans Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy

Discussant: Jon Fine,  President and Chief Executive, United Way of King County


Reconstituting the Safety Net: New Principles and Design Elements to Support Low-Income Workers

President Clinton’s welfare reform in 1995 fundamentally transformed the social welfare state. Faced with increasingly restrictive federal regulations and fiscal constraints, states now operate short-term, work-based, cash-assistance programs for small numbers of destitute families. Yet, at the same time, the differences between the haves and the have-nots in the United States are at unprecedented levels. Whereas the old model of social and income support had a public bureaucracy at the center, the tax system is now the most significant source of income transfer in the United States, and networks of nonprofits now provide many supports. New approaches must be built in relation to the policies, networks, and capacity which now exist. Jodi Sandfort drew upon system-design lessons from other policy arenas and innovative experiments to suggest viable new networks that can effectively support low-income citizens struggling to make ends meet.

Paper: Reconstituting the Safety Net: New Principles and Design Elements to Support Low-Income Workers [pdf]

Presenter: Jodi Sandfort, Associate Professor, HHH School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota

Discussant: Joaquin Herranz, Assistant Professor of Public Affairs, University of Washington

Discussant: Robin Arnold-Williams, Secretary, Washington State Department of Social and Health Services


Final Panel and Discussion: The Prospects and Politics of Policy Change

Adapting U.S. social policies to contemporary social, labor market and family realities, and the capacity of the public and nonprofit sectors, will require action at the federal, state and local levels. In the final conference session, experienced observers at each of these levels commented on the political, fiscal and institutional prospects for change.