Policy Implications: Work

Addressing the effects of structural racism on health inequities through work requires interdisciplinary solutions that ultimately improve the conditions for workers of color. There is no one size fits all solution, but rather multiple solutions that need to occur in order to improve worker health.

Increase wages for workers

To date, 30 states have helped to enact protections for minimum wages that are higher than the federal rates (DOL, 2021). The federal minimum wage has stayed stagnant at $7.25 since 2009 despite increases in the cost of living, creating and exacerbating economic hardships for workers. The income divide between Black and White workers has grown over time. Because Black and Brown workers are overrepresented in low-wage work, increases in the minimum wage would decrease the wage gap between workers of color and White workers (Derenoncourt et al, 2020). For example, an increase to $15 an hour would result in a pay increase for 31% and 26% of Black and Latinx workers, respectively, compared to about 20% of White workers (Cooper et al, 2021). More specifically, this rise in wages would amount to an additional $3,300 a year, which is significant for someone who currently earns less than $25,000 (NELP, 2021). While numerous campaigns such as the Fight for $15 have advocated for increases in the minimum wage, legislation is necessary to make this change.

Build worker power

In order to address health, workers need to have greater power that counteracts and balances that of business interests. These strategies include improving collective bargaining, supporting worker centers, and limiting the passage of right-to-work laws. Unions, in particular, help to establish protections that improve health such as higher incomes, job stability, health insurance, and workplace safety (Hagedorn et al, 2016). Other strategies that also improve collective bargaining, but at the industry level include sectoral bargaining and wage boards. Black workers have been a part of unions at historically higher rates than White workers, a fact that continues to support wages and access to health and retirement benefits for Black workers  (Bucknor, 2016). For many workers who are not protected by labor laws, such as domestic workers, day laborers, and gig workers who are disproportionately people of color, worker centers are community-based alternatives that increase worker voice through organizing and advocating for low-wage workers (Fyne, 2005). Finally, repealing and limiting the impacts of right-to-work laws, which threaten opportunities for collective bargaining, is necessary to ensure health equity among workers of color (CAP, 2021; CAP, 2018).

Reform the broken immigration system

Immigration policy is labor policy. Therefore, in order to address the exploitation that is common among immigrant workers, there is a need to ensure that policies protect immigrant workers. This includes policies that consider immigration based on labor market needs, have accurate worker authorization, do not rely solely on border enforcement, provide adjustments to the status of currently undocumented populations, and improve temporary worker programs (SEIU).