ICYMI: Imagining social protections for all

"Sometimes when we’re living inside a system, it’s hard to imagine what an alternative could look like. In our desire to make progress — to improve the way things work — we focus on a tweak here, a shift in implementation there," said Althea Erickson, former director of Center for Cultural Innovation's research and advocacy work. "And to some extent, that can be a good and pragmatic strategy. But it has its downsides."

"When we seek fixes for the systems we live in, we may unintentionally reinforce and entrench systems that simply don’t work — or worse, undermine our chances of achieving more transformative change. For example, the U.S. social safety net excludes huge swaths of workers — independent artists, domestic workers, farm workers, self-employed workers, sex workers, and undocumented workers, just to name a few. Some of these groups were explicitly excluded, while others were merely overlooked. A lot of effort has gone toward closing these gaps — expanding existing systems to new populations by, for example, including domestic workers in labor laws or excluding workers from unemployment insurance. But what if the 21st-century workforce simply doesn’t fit into 20th-century systems?"

"What if we started fresh and codesigned a set of social and economic protections that meet the needs of today’s workforce, unencumbered by the past? And what if we started that conversation with the workers who have, in the past, been excluded from it — the ones not protected by today’s safety net? What types of protections might we imagine together? And wouldn’t that system be more likely to actually work for everyone?"

"Those questions underpinned 'Reimagining Social Protections for Independent and Other Traditionally Excluded Workers,' an event that the Center for Cultural Innovation co-hosted with the Urban Institute in December 2022, with support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s Performing Arts Program. We brought together worker advocates representing nontraditional workers from across a wide swath of sectors — arts workers, domestic workers, migrant workers, temporary workers, street vendors, migrant workers, sex workers, and more. Together, we set aside the constraints of today’s systems and gave ourselves permission to imagine an alternative vision of economic security for everyone who contributes to a well-functioning society, to dream beyond barriers of all kinds."

Read the full piece here.