` APPAM Panel | Reach for Stars: Driving an Equitable Economic Recovery for the US Workforce - Opportunity@Work

APPAM Panel: Reach for Stars: Driving an Equitable Economic Recovery for the US Workforce

In November 2020, representatives from four universities –  Harvard, NYU, Stanford, and USC – presented new research on STARs at the APPAM 2020 Fall Research Conference.

Today’s policy efforts to support economic stability for workers in this COVID-19 environment will turn to policy efforts that drive economic resilience and mobility opportunities for our most vulnerable workers in the aftermath of COVID-19. Ensuring economic mobility options are available to workers will require that policymakers work alongside employers, workforce organizations and workers. This interdisciplinary panel of papers presented perspectives to formulate, implement and ultimately evaluate policy and practices that drive toward an equitable recovery.

The current circumstances already left many vulnerable workers behind. Between 2008 and 2017, almost ¾ of new jobs created in the economy were in jobs for which employers typically require a four-year bachelor’s degree. However, more than 60% of the active U.S. workforce does not have a four-year degree. This population of workers – those without a four-year degree, who have been active in the labor force in the past year – occupy jobs across all major job groups classified by the Department of Labor. They make up almost half the labor force today and are more than 40% of the workforce in all major metro regions in the U.S. They gain their skills through many different routes, most commonly on-the-job. We term these workers STARs, as they are skilled through alternative routes. An equitable economic recovery requires that we not only think about the economic stability for STARs, but also their economic mobility opportunities.

Current approaches in labor economics, public policy, and political science fail to adequately account for and measure STARs’ skills, resulting in a dearth of knowledge on how such skills can be leveraged in the jobs of the future, the societal and economic opportunity costs of not activating this talent pool, and what intergovernmental policies could support STARs.

The panelists produced important findings to support STARs’ equitable recovery across the policy lifecycle. First, the data formulation required to measure the skills of this population is detailed in “The skills of STARs: a measurement proposal for workers without bachelor’s degrees.”  How these skills map to higher wage roles in local geographies, with measures of potential transition opportunities is the focus of “Searching for STARs: Work Experience as a Job Market Signal for Workers without Bachelor’s degrees.” This lays out a roadmap for implementation of the data formulation.  “Essential Workers who are STARs: State Policy Variation, Response to COVID-19, and the Impact on Economic Resilience” addresses the impact of state policies on STARs’ ability to achieve mobility in this economic environment, and finally, “Alternative Careers: Lifetime Values of Labor Market Transitions” presents an evaluation with calculations of the opportunity costs of inaction.


Peter Q. Blair1, Shad Ahmed2, Byron Auguste2 and Justin Heck3, (1)Harvard University, (2)Opportunity@Work, (3)University of Michigan

Alternative Careers: Lifetime Values of Labor Market Transitions
Lisa K. Simon, Stanford University

Essential Stars: State Policy Variation, Response to COVID-19 and the Impact on Economic Resilience

Pamela McCann, University of Southern California

The Skills of Stars: Measuring the Skills of Workers without Bachelor’s Degrees

Andrea Jones-Rooy, New York University

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