Boston Fed’s Rosengren: 'We need to rethink jobs' to help those most hurt during pandemic Boston Fed’s Rosengren: 'We need to rethink jobs' to help those most hurt during pandemic

Rosengren says employers must to do more to alleviate labor market disparities exposed by COVID-19 Rosengren says employers must to do more to alleviate labor market disparities exposed by COVID-19

February 2, 2021

The COVID-19 recession has exposed and expanded longstanding labor market disparities, and employers must do more to clear chronic obstacles that hurt lower-income workers, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston President Eric Rosengren said Monday.

Rosengren was interviewed alongside Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic during a “fireside chat” on the first day of the Fed’s “Uneven Outcomes in the Labor Market” virtual conference.

Rosengren told moderator and Rutgers University economist William Rodgers that inadequate access to critical work supports, like paid sick days and child care, are among the reasons lower-income workers have been hit hardest with devastating income and job loss during the pandemic. He said less opportunity to work from home and reduce possible virus exposure is also a factor.

But Rosengren added the pandemic has also forced employers to use technology and new thinking to find flexibility with their workforce they didn’t know they had. That needs to carry over post-pandemic, he said.

“I think we need to rethink jobs as we’re reemploying people,” Rosengren said.

“I think it's really important to think about how we (employers) structure jobs so that it is attractive to a workforce, where they are and how they live, and not assume that the workforce is going to adapt to what … the employer is looking for,” he said.

Bostic: Economy is simultaneously in relief, recovery, and reimagination phases

The conference is being jointly hosted by community development staffs from the Fed’s Board of Governors and the Reserve Banks of Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, and Philadelphia.

The conversation with Rosengren and Bostic wrapped up an opening day that focused on the “State of Uneven Outcomes in the Labor Market.” The next three days focus on the future of work, education and credentials, and career pathways, respectively.

On Monday, academics shared research detailing inequities in the labor market, pre- and post-COVID-19. The data indicated that women and people of color were persistently disadvantaged in the labor market, earning less and having more difficulty finding work, at a cost to the U.S. of billions in lost economic output. The researchers said the trends are the product of a complex system of structural barriers and are exacerbated during economic downturns, such as the current crisis.

In the fireside chat, Bostic said the economy is simultaneously in its “relief” and “recovery” phases – businesses still need help because of the pandemic, but they’re also clearly thinking about what’s next. That’s why “reimagination” is also critical now, Bostic said.

“As we look to the future, we need to be thinking about what things might we (as employers) do differently to position people to be better able to participate in our labor market,” he said.

Rosengren: Public policy support needed to enable employers to rethink work

Rosengren said as that as employers put a greater focus on employee needs, they must have significant support from public policymakers.

For instance, he said, public transportation is going to need significant funding. He recalled walking through a “completely desolate” downtown Boston last week and compared it to the vibrancy there just a year ago. He emphasized that the public health problem needs to be resolved first, so people feel safe to return to densely populated areas. But bolstering public transportation will also be critical to rejuvenate business districts and the inner cities, because it’s an essential connector between them.

Rosengren said with adequate support, employers can find new ways to train workers, improve job quality, and keep employees as safe as possible, so the labor market disparities that existed before COVID-19 can be narrowed as the pandemic fades.

“All the onus can't be on the employees, it has to be getting the employees and the employers working together,” he said.

Learn more about the conference and register to attend here.

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