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multiethnic workers

ILR researchers argue against a return to business as usual in Ithaca

As Ithaca’s economy re-opens, it remains to be seen how much the pandemic has re-shaped the world of work. A new report co-authored by Cornell-ILR researchers Ian Greer, Rusty Weaver, and Michele Belot examines labor market change just as the pandemic was beginning to subside. Based on publicly available datasets, interviews with employers and workforce development organizations, and a survey of employers, the report has some striking findings:

  • Racial disparities in the local labor market are extreme: for example, nearly 70% of Black workers make below $15.37, whereas the figure was just over 30% for white workers.
  • Employers reported severe difficulties in recruiting because of low wages, concerns over health and safety at work, and work-family conflicts, but also a scarcity of particular formal qualifications; they also reported difficulty retaining workers once hired.
  • The vast majority of job openings reported by employers were for in-person jobs, despite large-scale adoption of working from home early on in the pandemic. This may reinforce disparities in the labor market, since the disabled and workers with caring responsibilities will have difficulty taking these jobs.  

The authors argue that an opportunity currently exists to reduce pre-pandemic racial disparities and wage inequalities and to avoid a return to business as usual. The report suggests some ways that the workforce development system can address barriers to work and support the growth of living-wage jobs, especially through more listening to service users and front-line workers in the community, especially people of color.

The report was commissioned by the Tompkins County Workforce Development Board and can be downloaded here.