Win-win-win: Examining strategies for Chicago's economy, its workers, and the public sector

Over the years, Civic Consulting Alliance has worked with our partners and clients to make significant improvements in the region's education and workforce systems. Examples include revamping career and technical education at Chicago Public Schools, creating the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership, and Reinvention at the City Colleges of Chicago. Successful initiatives such as these have made a difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people across the region. Yet the median wage in Illinois is 11 percent lower than it was 15 years ago, overall job growth lags national figures, and the vast majority of regional job growth has been in low-wage positions.

To understand how we can make more progress in providing economic mobility for workers, drive economic growth for the region, and reduce public sector expenditures, on October 2 Civic Consulting Alliance, along with the Joyce Foundation, the Chicagoland Workforce Funder Alliance, and Women Employed, hosted a roundtable discussion on "win-win job strategies." Attendees included leaders from the State of Illinois, Cook County, and the City of Chicago; private sector and foundation leaders; and academics and practitioners from the Aspen Institute, Georgetown, and MIT.

The goal: to understand how we've arrived at a "new economy" labor market, characterized by high growth in low-wage jobs and continued decline in middle-wage jobs, and the impact of this labor market on the regional economy, the public sector, and workers. The group explored solutions to improve job quality, employer success, and overall regional growth simultaneously, and discussed what the Chicago region might do to change the trajectory of the labor market.

The conversation was wide-ranging, yet resulted in several points of consensus, for example that (1) the labor market and associated problems are structural, having taken years to develop, and will take years to fix; and (2) the problems have resulted from, and solutions must come from, both the supply and demand sides of the labor market. While addressing the challenges of the new economy will take many different organizations and significant time, the roundtable highlighted several initiatives that Civic Consulting might pursue with our partners and clients. These include:

  • Gaining a better and ongoing understanding of the regional labor market, its trajectory, what is already under way to effect change, and what will be necessary to create the economy we all desire;
  • Continuing to advance critical supply-side initiatives, such as helping Reinvention at the City Colleges of Chicago achieve its ambitious goals;
  • Working with employers, nonprofit providers, and the public sector to make low-wage jobs more stable and a potential platform for advancement, for not just workers but also for their families;
  • Experimenting with new ways to integrate our education and workforce systems with employers, with the goal of each system improving the other.

Civic Consulting looks forward to working with participants and others across the region to develop these and other initiatives that will make our region more competitive and a better place for everyone to live, work, and do business.