Job Standards for Economic Development

Millions of working Americans today spend their careers in fast-growing service industry jobs such as building security, retail, food services and hotels.  But these occupations, which represent a growing share of our economy because they cannot be outsourced, generally provide very low wages and benefits, leaving working families and communities struggling.  High road employers like the retail giant Costco, unionized hotel chains in Las Vegas and San Francisco, and the janitorial industry in cities like New York and Chicago, however, have shown that they can operate competitively while providing living wages and benefits. 

Policymakers are now exploring new strategies for shifting more employers in these industries towards a high wage, high productivity model.  The tools they are using range from the government procurement system to the municipal economic development process.  By including job standards as a key part of economic development and procurement programs, communities are beginning to ensure that growth produces the good jobs their residents need.

NELP is a key ally for policymakers and advocates in this emerging field - developing new policy models, providing legal analysis, and advising on realistic job standards. Our work in this area includes:

  • Job Standards for Federal Programs:  NELP is working with allies to show how federal government spending can be used to shift more industries towards providing better wages and benefits.  Federal purchasing and incentive programs comprise a significant portion of the economy, financing millions of jobs across the nation.  Through approaches like living wage standards and "best value" bid evaluation systems that recognize the benefits to both taxpayers and working families when businesses invest in their workforces, federal spending can incentivize more employers to provide family-supporting wages and benefits.

  • Job Standards for Local Programs:  NELP advocates for incorporating job standards into city economic development programs to ensure that growth delivers the living wage jobs that local communities need.  Over the past decade, cities have established job standards for individual economic development projects by negotiating "community benefits agreements" with developers.  Cities are now looking to extend this approach by making job standards a key component of all new economic development.  In New York, where one city incentive program now includes job standards, NELP is helping make the case for extending them to all city-linked development.

  • Industry-Targeted Job Standards for Development:  NELP is helping cities explore living wage laws targeted towards key low-wage industries as a new strategy for upgrading low-wage jobs.  In 2006, we helped Chicago lawmakers develop a living wage for the fast-growing  "big box" retail industry, but the measure was vetoed by Mayor Richard Daley.  In the years since then, Washington, D.C. has adopted the nation's first living wage for the building security industry, successfully transforming poverty wage jobs into positions paying $11.51 per hour as of 2008, plus solid benefits.  Los Angeles and Emeryville, California have enacted similar living wage laws for hotel industry jobs in their communities.  NELP provides assistance to cities and advocates seeking to replicate this important new approach.

For more information on our work in this area, please contact Paul Sonn,

Other key resources:

Partnership for Working Families

Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE)

Good Jobs First

Policy Link