Labor Day Reflections: How Philanthropists Can Advance the Dignity of Work

The Roundtable works to ensure every American has the freedom to reach their full, unique potential and achieve economic security. We support organizations that eliminate barriers to upward mobility, expand opportunity and reward hard work and perseverance.

In today’s world, Labor Day weekend is often a time for beach getaways, barbecues and end of summer sales. But this federal holiday, which was established in 1894 to celebrate the achievements of American workers, holds deeper meaning in this country. In America, work is an opportunity to create something, to better one’s self, family and community. The idea that work leads to economic mobility and a sense of personal fulfillment is at the core of the American Dream and the shared American identity.

Nevertheless, workforce participation rates are dwindling and research shows that, after adjusting for inflation, Americans today are earning less money than their parents did at a similar age. It may be easy to lose sight of the American Dream today but the nonprofit sector — undergirded by private philanthropy — is hard at work developing new ideas to bolster economic opportunities, replicate and scale successful programs and support research to inform thoughtful policymaking. Charitable organizations assist marginalized and disadvantaged individuals with finding work – and they help address nuanced and complex issues that prevent people from reaching their full, unique potential.  

There are many impressive organizations working to remove unnecessary barriers to work, cultivate entrepreneurship and create prospects for gainful employment. Below is a small sample of some notable examples worth exploring:

  • Pacific Legal Foundation – This organization promotes the right to earn an honest living free from unreasonable government interference. Founded in 1973, PLF has an unmatched record of success at the U.S. Supreme Court working to ensure the administrative state does not hamper the economy and cause an unnecessary burden to Americans. Under the leadership of its president and CEO, Steve Anderson, PLF has grown in size, significance and as a steward of donors’ investments. Its Fund has litigated 14 cases before the Supreme Court and won 12, with more than half of its victories occurring since 2012.
  • Institute for the American Worker – This nonprofit specializes in informing policymakers on how best to protect workers’ rights by combining expert analysis with customized research on labor legislation. According to the organization, a “handful of special interests have dominated labor policy in Washington, D.C. for generations … [and] many of them work harder to preserve and expand their own power than they do fighting for the people they’re meant to serve.”
  • Construction Ready – This Georgia-based nonprofit focuses on cultivating a skilled construction workforce. Through training programs and job placement services, it offers a four-week training course that screens and trains entry-level workers, leading to job placement by partnering employers. The organization also works to build vital talent pipelines in the skilled trades by cultivating long-term workforce preparation with K-12 students, and by addressing immediate labor shortages with adult participants who are screened, trained, drug-free and ready to work.
  • Grameen America – Founded in Queens, New York in 2008, Grameen America builds on the legacy and proven model of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus. His revolutionary but simple idea that all people can lift themselves out of poverty through their own entrepreneurial spirit has dramatically altered how people view the relationship between poverty and work. In a recent interview with the Philanthropy Roundtable on its “Doers to Donors” interview series, philanthropist Ray Dalio highlights the organization and its ability to make entrepreneurship a possibility for individuals existing at the margins of the economy. 
  • Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities – This research institute based out of the University of Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters matches passionate social service leaders with top researchers to identify the effective, innovative, scalable policies and programs that assist people in permanently moving out of poverty and into meaningful employment opportunities. By studying various interventions to disadvantaged and marginalized individuals and communities, LEO is building a body of data-based evidence to support programs that actually work.

These nonprofits work tirelessly to connect people with job opportunities – and help advance policies that will lead to a flourishing economy. Nevertheless, they are confronting some economic conditions that are largely outside of their control

Despite these challenging times, philanthropic efforts to advance the dignity of work are alive and well and remain a highly rewarding area of giving. The impact of the organizations listed above is tangible, often dramatically changing the course of people’s lives, as well as improving local workforces and economies. As we enjoy our Labor Day weekend, may we reflect with gratitude on all that hard work has brought to our lives, families, communities and the American experience.     

To learn more about the organizations featured in this blog or to recommend a high-quality organization promoting economic opportunity, please reach out to Program Director Erica Haines.

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