Progress for Every Community

The 2016 annual EARN conference is being sited in St. Louis in recognition of the central role the community has played in national discussions of economic and racial justice over the course of the past two years. “Ferguson” has become shorthand for the failure of cities, municipalities, and the public sector more broadly to adequately serve and support residents of all races, faiths, and backgrounds. The riots and protests that took place in the city beginning in 2014 agitated decades-old social fault lines regarding police brutality, discriminatory housing policy, and the denial of essential civil rights to communities of color. But the protests also inspired a new generation of activists and thought-leaders to speak out about the injustice– racial, economic, and otherwise–they experience and the change required to achieve greater equity. Whereas last year’s conference in Los Angeles celebrated progressive victories at the state and local level, this year’s conference hopes to shed light on some of the challenges faced by communities where victories are harder to achieve but are just as desperately needed.

The 2016 conference will also continue EARN’s multi-year campaign to support state and local efforts to raise wages and strengthen labor standards. We urge you to join us at the conference as we convene EARN’s deep bench of policy and economic experts with the activists, community groups, and labor allies that form the core of efforts to move policies at the state and local level to raise wages and improve living standards for the broad majority.

Conference dates: December 14–16, 2016*

*Registration will open Wednesday, December 14th at 4:00 pm. Program will run until Friday, December 16th at 3:00 pm.

Marriott St. Louis Grand
800 Washington Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63101
Tel: 800-397-1282

 Detailed agenda | Contact the organizers | Access Conference Materials

For EARN members: Click here to access previous years’ conference materials.

Agenda items subject to change.


Wednesday, Dec. 14


  •  Landmark Ballroom Foyer
  • 4:00–7:00 pm


  •  Crystal Ballroom
  • 5:00–7:00 pm

Opening Plenary: Learning from St. Louis

  •  Landmark Ballroom 1-3
  • 7:00-8:30 pm
  • Plenary

St. Louis has played a central role in national discussions of economic and racial justice over the course of the past two years. “Ferguson” has become shorthand for the failure of cities, municipalities, and the public sector more broadly to adequately serve and support residents of all races, faiths, and socioeconomic backgrounds. The violent riots and protests that took place in the city beginning in 2014 agitated decades-old social fault lines regarding police brutality, discriminatory housing policy, and the denial of essential civil rights to minority communities. But the protests also enraged a new generation to speak out about the injustice– racial, socioeconomic, and otherwise–they experience and understand. In this opening plenary, we will hear about the policy decisions that led to segregation and exclusion in the St. Louis region. We will also hear from local organizers and activists who are leading the charge to undo decades of systematic disadvantaging of the African American community.

  • Colin Gordon, University of Iowa
  • Rev. Starsky Wilson, Deaconess Foundation
  • Kayla Reed, Movement for Black Lives & St. Louis Action Council
  • Derek Laney, Missourians Organizing for Reform & Empowerment
  • Clarissa Hayward, Washington University

Welcome Reception

  • Landmark Ballroom Foyer
  • 8:30-11:00 pm

Thursday, Dec. 15


  •  Landmark Ballroom 4
  • 7:30-8:30am

Plenary: Big ideas for economic justice

  •  Landmark Ballrooms 1-3
  • 8:40-9:50 am
  • Plenary

In the aftermath of the election, there is a greater need than ever before for progressive thinkers to articulate a bold policy agenda that can guide and inspire lawmakers, advocates, and citizens. EARN groups work on a daily basis to generate, analyze, promote, and defend state and local policies that will improve the lives of low- and middle-income working families. Yet we all recognize that to create an economy that truly works for everyone, we will need transformative national change.  In this session, national thought-leaders will present a number of “big ideas” that could transform our economic system and lead a discussion on how researchers and advocates at the state and local level can engage on these ideas.

  • Moderator: Noah Berger, Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center
  • David Madland, Center for American Progress
  • Anne Price, Insight Center for Community Economic Development
  • Zach Silk, Civic Ventures

Session 1.1 10:00am–11:15am

Promoting job quality in workforce development

  •  Landmark Ballroom 5
  • 10:00-11:15 am
  • 1.1

This session will highlight the ground-breaking efforts of the Hospitality Training Academy (HTA), a labor-management partnership, in collaboration with a one-stop job center (American Job Centers (AJCs) and the City of Los Angeles’ Workforce Development Board (WDB), to move low-income African-American, Asian-American and Transgender clients into union hospitality jobs, with good wages and benefits. Drawing on the experience of a foundation-funded workforce project spanning Cincinnati, Ohio and parts of Kentucky and Indiana, Hannah Halbert will discuss how regions without significant union presence can use their workforce programs to promote job quality and higher wages. In the last part of the workshop, Laura Dresser will lead a discussion, informed by the EARN multi-state workforce project, of policies that could help more WDBs to focus training and job placement efforts on employers with better than typical jobs for their industry or who are willing to commit to improving jobs. This discussion will also  consider the potential for a future EARN multi-state workforce project aimed at strengthening the focus of local and state workforce systems on job quality.

  • Moderator: Stephen Herzenberg, Keystone Research Center
  • Laura Dresser, COWS
  • Adine Forman, Hospitality Training Academy Los Angeles
  • Hannah Halbert, Policy Matters Ohio

Making the case for good infrastructure investment

  •  Landmark Ballroom 6
  • 10:00-11:15 am
  • 1.1

If infrastructure is such a popular and bipartisan issue, then why has it been so challenging to generate the necessary investment for public infrastructure?  A panel of experts with experience in research, advocacy, and government discuss the political and organizing obstacles, the crises, traps, and opportunities ahead, the revenue gimmicks to avoid, and the lessons learned in their experience as researchers and advocates in transportation and water infrastructure.

  • Moderator: Phineas Baxandall, Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center
  • Laura Barrett, Interfaith Worker Justice
  • Darnell Chadwick Grisby, American Public Transportation Association
  • Laura Orlando, Boston University

Job quality and racial equity

  •  Landmark Ballroom 7
  • 10:00-11:15 am
  • 1.1

This workshop will explore inequity in the job market and the quality of jobs by race and ethnicity. Panelists will discuss wage inequity, occupational segregation by race and gender, how workers of color are impacted by the uneven enforcement of employment laws and regulations, disparities in access to core job benefits such as paid sick time and health coverage, and the challenges facing immigrant workers.

  • Moderator: Tamara Draut, Demos
  • Kristian Blackmon, Missouri Jobs with Justice
  • Chandra Childers, Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR)
  • Pamela Joshi, Institute for Child, Youth, and Family Policy

Lunch Plenary: Building power in the states – Lessons from the right

  •  Landmark Ballroom 4
  • 11:20-1:00 pm
  • Plenary

Theda Skocpol and Alexander Hertel-Fernandez have spent years documenting the strategies, leadership, policy infrastructure, and resources that allowed the right to build power and impact in the states. This session will describe how conservative forces set the stage to dominate the policy agenda and to control a large majority of state legislative and executive offices. The presenters will provide their perspective on the lessons EARN and other state networks can take from the success of the right, and how progressive organizations can forge their own path to power and policy successes.

  • Theda Skocpol, Harvard University
  • Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, Columbia University


Session 1.2 1:10pm–2:25pm

The Fight for $15: How wonks should be thinking about $15

  •  Landmark Ballroom 5
  • 1:10-2:25 pm
  • 1.2

New York, California, and over a dozen cities have passed legislation that will establish $15 minimum wages over the next several years. Moreover, the platform of the Democratic party now calls for $15 national wage floor. This would be the biggest change in labor market policy since the New Deal, and it has raised important questions for policymakers and experts: How do we determine the appropriate level of the minimum wage? If a $15 minimum wage is outside the bounds of studied U.S. experience, what can we say about its impact on the economy? Should policymakers be concerned about job losses? What does “job loss” actually mean? How will state and local governments need to adjust to higher minimum wages? In this session, some of the country’s foremost experts on the minimum wage will tackle these and other questions.

  • David Cooper, EPI/EARN
  • David Howell, The New School
  • Michael Reich, University of California at Berkeley

New tools for measuring (and improving) the effectiveness of economic development subsidies

  •  Landmark Ballroom 6
  • 1:10-2:25 pm
  • 1.2

Economic development incentives see widespread use at the state and local levels, yet they remain costly and difficult to assess in terms of their effectiveness. Thanks to the efforts of state and national advocacy organizations, new tools, data, and analytical approaches are now becoming available for fully measuring the costs of subsidy projects, assessing the extent to which they deliver on their promises, and identifying policy and program interventions that can improve outcomes for workers.

  • Allan Freyer, North Carolina Justice Center
  • Josh Goodman, Pew Trusts

Training session: EARN 101 – How to use SWXX files, Jobwatch, and other EARN tools

  •  Landmark Ballroom 7
  • 1:10-2:25 pm
  • 1.2

This session is meant as an introduction or refresher for some of the most popular data tools available to members through EARN. The session will open with a discussion of State Jobs Day tools and best practices. Thereafter, we will move through the suite of State of Working X (SWXX) materials available to EARN members. The session will attempt to highlight the breadth of the resources available– where to find them and how they can be used– rather than drilling down within any one of the products. The session will, however, be interactive. Attendees are encouraged to bring laptops to participate in application exercises. The session will also touch briefly on state productivity data, trends in income inequality, and immigration data. A generous amount of time will be set aside for questions.

  • Jessica Schieder, EPI/EARN


  • Landmark Ballroom Foyer
  • 2:25-3:00pm

Session 1.3 3:00–4:15 pm

Occupational licensing reform: Separating the good from the bad

  •  Landmark Ballroom 5
  • 3:00–4:15 pm
  • 1.3

Over the past year, op-eds have appeared in a number of papers across the country calling for reform of state occupational licensing requirements. Several state legislatures have taken up bills on this issue, prominent think tanks have issued reports calling for changes, and even the White House has proposed measures for reform. But where is this all coming from and what does it mean? There are legitimate reforms that should be considered to expand opportunities to immigrants and formerly incarcerated individuals. At the same time, some of these ploys–advanced under the guise of reform–may simply be efforts to undermine labor standards and certification programs that ensure safety, job quality, mobility, and wages. In this session, we will discuss the good ideas and the bad ones – making sure you know how to respond when calls for reform start popping up in your state.

  • Robert Pleasure, North America’s Building Trades Unions
  • Samuel Krinsky, 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East
  • Mary Beth Salomone Testa, MBST Solutions & the National Association for Family Child Care
  • David Dyssegaard Kallick, Fiscal Policy Institute 

EARN in the Red: Brainstorming on a southern strategy for working families and EARN

  •  Landmark Ballroom 6
  • 3:00–4:15 pm
  • 1.3

EARN’s partners in red states often feel that they are limited in what they can do around an agenda for working families, a concern that has special characteristics and is even more pronounced in the south. To explore these challenges and look for opportunities, this session will engage with organizations from red states about how EARN can provide more meaningful support to groups, particularly in southern states. Southern EARN EDs will kick off the discussion, reflect on the limitations of EARN presently and what might reasonably be accomplished in the future with EARN support. Come hear about opportunities and obstacles. And be prepared to share your thoughts about what can be accomplished in red states and how EARN can provide support to states that aren’t in a position to undertake some of the reforms and initiatives that groups in more traditionally progressive states are able to do. A constructive critique of EARN’s offerings for southern/red states and suggestions on how we can be of use and relevant in the region will be encouraged.

  • Ann Beeson, Center for Public Policy Priorities
  • Amy Blouin, Missouri Budget Project
  • Ted Boettner, West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy 
  • Dianne Stewart, EPI/EARN

Finally, a price tag on corporate welfare! Are you ready for GASB 77 data?

  •  Landmark Ballroom 7
  • 3:00–4:15 pm
  • 1.3

Do you suspect that funding for public services in your state or city is undermined by excessive corporate tax breaks? If you answered “yes,” your ship has come in! Join Good Jobs First and a state auditing official as we explain how you can best prepare for the first-ever flood of tax expenditure data mandated by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) under its Statement No. 77 on Tax Abatement Disclosures (its latest amendment to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, or GAAP.)

Under Statement No. 77, all states and most local government bodies—including most school districts—will have to compute and disclose how much revenue they lose to corporate tax breaks granted in the name of economic development. For all progressive budget advocates and their allies who have better uses for the money (e.g., K-12, infrastructure, community college, EITCs, etc.), the new accounting standard will reveal tens of billions of dollars in opportunity-cost data never before made public.

Find out how the data will appear in Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFRs); who oversees GAAP compliance in your state; who collects CAFRs and what they do with them; and who else in your state commented on the draft statement (including elected officials and academic experts). Good Jobs First will provide detailed “cheat sheets” for every state in attendance.

  • Greg LeRoy, Good Jobs First
  • Sarita Nair, Office of the State Auditor of New Mexico

EARN Directors’ Meeting

  •  Landmark 6
  •  4:20- 5:45 pm

Friday, Dec. 16


  •  Landmark Ballroom 4
  • 7:30- 8:30 am

Session 2.1 8:40am–9:55am

Survey to win: Using community-based surveys to power fair scheduling campaigns

  •  Landmark Ballroom 5
  • 8:40-9:55am
  • 2.1

In the past few years, volatile work schedules have emerged in the public eye as a major challenge for lower-wage workers in the US. Workers and advocates nationwide are mobilizing to address the issue, campaigning for – and winning – new labor standards to regulate work schedules for the first time in decades. San Francisco and Seattle are the first major cities to enact comprehensive legislation guaranteeing certain retail and restaurant workers basic protections from abusive scheduling practices. More than a dozen other cities and states have launched campaigns to pass such laws, and a federal bill has been introduced in Congress.

In several of the cities organizing to pass fair scheduling laws, community-based surveys have played a key role in exposing the extent of the problem, mobilizing workers, and activating media, policymaker, and public interest in the issues. This panel brings together advocates from several campaigns that have used surveys focused on scheduling as a part of their strategy to win. The panel will also include leading researchers with expertise on work scheduling issues. Together, panelists will review some of the key findings from their surveys; discuss the lessons they have learned from fielding community-based surveys; talk about the impact of the surveys on their campaigns; and draw on the researchers’ expertise to provide guidance to others considering similar approaches to fair scheduling campaigns. Workshop participants will gain a comprehensive picture of the community-based survey approach to fair scheduling campaigns and leave the session with ideas for their own advocacy-focused survey projects.

  • Moderator: Maggie Corser, Center for Popular Democracy
  • Anna Haley-Lock, Rutgers University School of Social Work
  • Sejal Parikh, Working Washington
  • Victoria Ramirez, Working Partnerships USA
  • Ari Schwartz, DC Jobs with Justice

Pitchfork politics: How to turn American anger to effective action

  •  Landmark Ballroom 6
  • 8:40-9:55am
  • 2.1

For the past year we’ve all witnessed an angry and anxious electorate, pushing back against a government that seems to be run of, by and for the elites. Beliefs that prevent progress in advancing policy change, and that advocates confront on a daily basis have been front and center, such as:

• My vote doesn’t matter. People like me have no say.
• There would be plenty of money to fund public programs if they cut waste, fraud and abuse.
• Private business would do a better job than government bureaucrats.
• Politicians are all bought.

These problems are not insurmountable. The Topos Partnership has conducted a deep exploration of public understandings of government, taxes, privatization and money in politics. These four separate, but related research projects provide powerful cross-cutting strategies for advancing progressive change.

In this session, we’ll share common lessons advocates should attend to across issue and policy debates. These lessons go far beyond bumper stickers or slogans. They represent fundamental ideas with the potential to engage citizens and put advocates in a far better position to win these debates.

In addition to learning the overarching strategy, you’ll also hear from advocates who are putting these lessons to use in their states.

  • Moderator: Remy Trupin, TOPOS Partnership
  • Meg Bostrom, TOPOS Partnership
  • Joe Grady, TOPOS Partnership
  • Renell Weathers, Michigan League for Public Policy (MLPP)

Rescuing the unemployment insurance safety net

  •  Landmark Ballroom 7
  • 8:40-9:55am
  • 2.1

The ravages of the Great Recession are still being felt by the unemployment insurance safety net. A record number of state unemployment trust funds went into debt, spurring many states to enact major, permanent benefit restrictions. Now, fewer than 3 out of every 10 jobless workers are receiving an unemployment check; in some states, the rate is lower than 2 in 10. With state trust funds at their best level since 2002, now is the time to strategize on a way to reverse the tide. The extended economic recovery gives advocates a chance to rebuild this critical economic shock absorber to deal with today’s unstable economy and be prepared for the next recession. Come hear from national experts and state-based EARN members with the latest research on the UI program, lessons from critical state discussions , and bold national plans for reform.

  • Claire McKenna, National Employment Law Project
  • Zach Schiller, Policy Matters Ohio
  • Andrew Stettner, The Century Foundation
  • Ilana Boivie, DC Fiscal Policy Institute

Session 2.2 10:00am–11:15am

Expanding job opportunities for people with records

  •  Landmark Ballroom 5
  • 10:00-11:15am
  • 2.2

The recent election showed us at least two themes: there aren’t enough good paying jobs to go around and racism still runs deep in the United States. Barriers to employment for people with records stand at the intersection of these two themes, with legal and individual discrimination blocking employment even when there are jobs available. This workshop will connect the results of the recent election to recent research, cover some of the work happening across the country to dismantle barriers to employment, and provide a space for discussion.

  • Allyson Fredericksen, People’s Action Institute
  • Marilyn Reyes-Scales, VOCAL-NY
  • Michelle Natividad Rodriguez, National Employment Law Project

Preserving progressive local control

  •  Landmark Ballroom 6
  • 10:00-11:15am
  • 2.2

Across the country, state governments are interfering with the ability of local governments to pass health, safety, workplace and environmental ordinances. This is driven in large part by conservative organizations, and has a large impact on local organizing and policy. This session will review where preemption is happening and on what issues, how to talk about it effectively, and what role researchers and advocates can play in these fights. We’ll examine several case studies, focusing on minimum wage and local hire policies.

  • Moderator: Sam Munger, SiX
  • Lauren Bonds, SEIU
  • Miya Saika Chen, Partnership for Working Families
  • Kim Haddow, Haddow Communications
  • Tracy McCreery, Missouri State Representative

State retirement plans: What would they look like if they supported and protected retirees?

  •  Landmark Ballroom 7
  • 10:00-11:15am
  • 2.2

Retirement security is a mess. Social Security benefits are low. The retirement age is going up. Most people have nothing or next to nothing saved for retirement. One of the last rulings of the Obama Administration has been to green light state-run initiatives that give all private-sector workers access to a retirement savings plan at work. Wait, what? Automatic access to a retirement savings plan for all workers? Yes. California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland and Oregon have taken action. Other states and several large cities are considering innovative approaches. Get in the game on this—it helps workers and wins in the legislature. Even Republicans like it.

  • Steve Hill, Service Employees International Union

Session 2.3 11:20am–12:35pm

Wage theft and what to do about it

  •  Landmark Ballroom 5
  • 11:20am-12:35pm
  • 2.3

The panel will discuss the scope of the wage theft problem, the major obstacles to controlling or remedying wage theft, and legislative solutions that state legislatures and cities can enact. A special emphasis will be placed on how to improve the performance of the government agencies responsible for enforcement.

  • Moderator: Ross Eisenbrey, EPI
  • Sally Dworak-Fisher, Public Justice Center
  • Janice Fine, Rutgers Center for Innovation in Worker Organization
  • Laura Huizar, National Employment Law Project

State and federal-state agendas for rebuilding manufacturing in 2017

  •  Landmark Ballroom 6
  • 11:20am-12:35pm
  • 2.3

This workshop will explore the potential for constructively reshaping U.S. manufacturing in the next Presidential administration. Scott Paul of the Alliance for AAM and Rob Scott of EPI will provide a perspective on the federal opportunities and challenges emerging in the wake of the Presidential elections. Stephen Herzenberg of Keystone Research Center will provide an overview of a “manufacturing state policy template” developed out of a just-completed six-state AAM-EPI-EARN project. Laura Dresser of COWS will facilitate discussion of how AAM-EPI-EARN might partner to shift the U.S. further towards federal, federal-state, and state policies supportive of high-wage U.S. manufacturing. How might EPI and EARN research, communications and advocacy achieve bigger shifts towards fair trade? How can we achieve more “Buy America” and “buy local” sourcing in a new infrastructure package? What is the key to increased retention and reshoring in the context of greater scrutiny of companies’ location and sourcing decisions?

  • Moderator: Laura Dresser, COWS
  • Stephen Herzenberg, Keystone Research Center
  • Scott Paul, Alliance for American Manufacturing
  • Rob Scott, Economic Policy Institute

Training Session: EARN 201 – Using microdata, what makes a great “State of Working X” report, and other data tools

  •  Landmark Ballroom 7
  • 11:20am-12:35pm
  • 2.3

This session will present data that are available and provide an opportunity for questions, answers, and suggestions on how to move forward with State of Working X (and other data-heavy) reports. The Current Population Survey (CPS) is the most commonly used data source by EARN groups. Statistics obtained from the CPS include employment shares, unemployment, earnings, hours of work, and other indicators, all available by a variety of demographic characteristics. The full CPS datasets are available for download on the EARN website, with variables recoded to provide consistency between years and between surveys. This session will illustrate methods for manipulating microdata with a series of sample STATA “.do” files. We will learn how to use Current Population Survey data to create customized tables telling stories that could not be told with published data alone. Topics will include defining the sample, calculating quintiles, and creating labor force statistics by demographic characteristics. Using current, pressing issues as examples, the session will help users better understand common problems and mistakes with using the CPS microdata.

  • Janelle Jones, EPI/EARN

Lunch and closing plenary: The post-election outlook and implications for our work in 2017

  •  Landmark Ballroom 4
  • 12:40-2:15pm
  • Plenary

The 2016 election cycle will be remembered for many challenges, yet savvy election observers will note that many of the issues motivating voters and central to policy discussions were key EARN issues: the availability of good jobs, the need for higher wages, addressing racial disparities, ensuring women’s rights in the workplace, acknowledging the dangers of bad trade policy, and creating a more inclusive economy. When the election is over, movements such as Black Lives Matter and the Fight for $15 will continue to challenge lawmakers to meaningfully tackle racial and gender inequities and the loss of worker bargaining power. In this closing plenary, national thought-leaders and campaign directors will describe how these social movements and the election are shaping the national policy agenda, and the implications of these developments for policymakers, analysts, and advocates at national, state, and local levels.

  • Larry Mishel, Economic Policy Institute
  • Dianne Stewart, Economic Policy Institute / EARN
  • Heather Boushey, Washington Center for Equitable Growth
  • Connie M. Razza, Center for Popular Democracy 
  • Damon Silvers, AFL-CIO