Work benefits: ensuring economic security in the 21st century

1 Jan 2017

We believe the rise of on-demand work has spotlighted challenges faced by a large share of American workers who do not receive job-based benefits and do not have a public safety net on which to rely. As part of this trend, we’ve witnessed increased political support for universalizing benefits once tied to the workplace. Nationally we’ve passed the Affordable Care Act, and state-level campaigns are finding continued success passing new programs to provide paid sick and family leave to all workers. It is now well past time to reimagine the existing, employment-based social contract and develop new institutions to provide economic security to workers in the 21st century. While many reports on the changing nature of work have provided typologies of models for portable benefits or enhanced economic security, we believe the value of this report is our articulation of a broad principled vision of the future.

This agenda has three core components: we must expand the public safety net, support new models of negotiated benefits, and ensure business and public funds supplement the contributions of workers and consumers. We argue that we should enhance the public safety net by expanding both the types of benefits provided and the categories of workers eligible for these benefits. We support publicly mandated and subsidized paid sick days, paid family leave, health care, and other benefits that historically have been left to the discretion of employers. Further, we argue that we should broaden eligibility for existing social benefits and proposed programs. Regardless of whether they are classified as full-time employees, subcontractors, or independent contractors, all workers should have access to an expansive set of benefits and labor protections, from Social Security and paid family leave to workers’ compensation and minimum wage. We argue:

  • Policymakers should do away with sector- and job structure-based exclusions from existing social benefits
  • State and local agencies should crack down on misclassification of workers as independent contractors.
  • To stop the gaming of employment classifications, policymakers should ensure that businesses contribute to social benefits for workers who contribute to their business. Self-employed workers should also have access to social benefits.
  • We should build on existing structures to create a broad system of social benefits that is universal, portable, and flexible.
  • Cover a range of health, welfare, and pension needs that are defined by workers and act as a supplement to an expanded social benefits system
  • Protect funds by incorporating strict fiduciary duties and protections against conflicts of interest;
  • Include incentives for businesses to provide benefits, such as favorable tax treatment; and
  • Be adequately funded to meet the needs of workers in the sector.

This report outlines a set of principles to guide the ongoing debate about how to expand economic security for the many who cannot currently rely on a job-based system of benefits.

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