EARNcon 2019 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Though the City of Pittsburgh is often lauded as “the most livable city in America,” in September of 2019, Pittsburgh’s Gender Equity Commission released a report with an alarming finding: the city is the worst place in the nation for black women to live for just about every one of the report’s indicators of livability. This provided an interesting and dynamic backdrop for the discussions at the Economy Policy Institute’s 2019 EARN conference (EARNcon), which was held in Pittsburgh, and attended by Woodstock Institute’s Research Associate Janice Guzon.

Every year, EARNcon brings together thought leaders, researchers, policy experts, economists, faith leaders, and advocates from all over the country to share best practices, discuss strategies, sharpen skills, and engage in conversations that help shape the nation’s economic policies. This year, from October 2-4, the conference offered a number of courses and panel discussions centered around the themes of building power and confronting racial divides. The conference keynotes hailed from some of Pittsburgh’s most progressive enclaves; they included Lisa Frank of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, Angel Gober of One Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania State Representative Sara Innamorato, and Carl Redwood of the Hill District Consensus Group. The speakers reinforced some of Woodstock Institute’s firmly held beliefs, such as the critical need for research to include human stories of the people who are most often and most substantially impacted by economic policies.

The three-day event was packed to the brim with course offerings on some of today’s most pressing economic issues, including discussions on policy at the intersection of race, ethnicity, gender, and class; increasingly pervasive trends of clauses in employment contracts that limit worker job mobility and rights; preparing for the next recession based on lessons learned from the 2008 Great Recession; and case studies on how researchers and community organizers worked together to bring about Fair Work Week reforms. Each of these sessions provided a foundation by which Woodstock’s research department can build upon its research agenda for the year 2020.

All of these discussions underscored the degree to which race and socioeconomic profiles are inherently intertwined in and inseparable from the discussion of economic policy. To the extent that we address the problems with our nation’s economy and our local economies without including communities of color and low- and moderate-income groups in the conversation and their narratives in our research, we paint only a partial portrait of our economic dilemmas.

In addition to these invaluable sessions of idea-sharing, the conference introduced Woodstock Institute to a number of new data sources, including the National Historical Geographic Information System (NHGIS), which provides easy access to historical data on population, housing, agriculture, and economic data; IPUMS, which provides a database of census and survey data from around the world; and The Quarterly Workforce Indicators Explorer, which provides quarterly data on workforce indicators such as jobs created and destroyed by industry. Panel conversations and presentations also provided ideas for topics to integrate into the organization’s research agenda for the next year, including the impact of non-compete agreements on worker mobility and relevant lessons learned from the 2008 recession.

Overall, EARNcon 2019 was a great success. Woodstock Institute was proud to be in attendance at the largest EARNcon to date, and to be part of the conversations guiding progressive economic policy reform around the country.