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JPMorgan Chase awards $1.6 million grant to address employment vulnerability of low-wage frontline workers

JPMorgan Chase has awarded a $1.6 million grant to the Social Policy Institute (SPI) at Washington University in St. Louis in aid of its Workforce Economic Inclusion and Mobility (WEIM) Project to address the employment vulnerability of low-wage frontline and essential workers.

Through this work, SPI will build a better understanding of the public policy and institutional practice opportunities for reducing financial risk and promoting financial well-being among these workers. In addition, the study aims to investigate the extent to which the rapidly changing digital financial ecosystem—with a specific emphasis on fintech products and services—can help support the financial well-being of these workers or put them at risk.

The WEIM Project is motivated by the fact that employment arrangements are becoming increasingly vulnerable. While gig work and self-employment are on the rise in the U.S., these jobs are associated with increased hardship risks and volatile earnings. Moreover, employer benefits comprise around 30% of the total compensation for workers in traditional forms of employment, but access to these benefits is much lower among workers in vulnerable or low-wage employment arrangements. This combination of low wages and limited access to benefits often forces these workers to patch together a disparate array of public and private supports in order to make ends meet.

In response to this all-too-common reality for workers, the WEIM Project aims to produce actionable insights grounded in the lived experience of vulnerable workers to promote large-scale change in public policies and corporate practices that promote financial security and economic mobility for workers and their families while reducing racial economic inequality. As part of this work, the WEIM Project will survey vulnerable employees, including low-wage, gig, and self-employed workers to understand their experienced benefits, volatility, and financial security. We will also leverage qualitative interviews to obtain in-depth information regarding vulnerable workers’ day-to-day decisions around employment, how they engage with various public and private benefits, and how they understand federal benefits (i.e., CTC, EITC) and employment laws.

Additionally, SPI will conduct mixed-methods research aimed at understanding the impact of cash transfer programs, such as the recent Child Tax Credit Expansion and guaranteed income pilots taking place around the country, on the employment choices and financial security of vulnerable workers. As a result of the evidence generated from the WEIM Project, SPI and other stakeholders will identify policies, programs, and practices that will promote financial security among low-wage workers, as well as improve access to financial resources for these individuals.

The SPI research team will also be partnering with the Centre on Household Assets and Savings Management (CHASM) at the University of Birmingham on this initiative to compare findings on employment vulnerability and its implications for policy solutions in the U.S. and United Kingdom.

This research will be conducted by several SPI principal investigators (PI) and staff: Michal Grinstein-Weiss, Director (PI); Stephen Roll, Associate Director of Research (Co-PI); Mathieu Despard, Faculty Director (Co-PI); Laura Brugger, Data Analyst III; Fanice Thomas, Associate Director of Policy and Strategy; and Katie Kristensen, Operations Manager.

Since 2014, JPMorgan Chase has supported the Social Policy Institute in its efforts to conduct rigorous financial health research and inform innovative solutions to create an inclusive and equitable economy. JPMC was a funding pioneer supporting SPI’s research on the effects of financial wellbeing programs created by employers. In addition, with JPMC’s support, SPI researchers developed the Refund to Savings initiative, one of the largest savings experiments in the United States. Over the course of the seven-year initiative, SPI researchers developed new interventions that led to an additional 65,000 savings deposits, which translated into roughly 100 million more dollars in tax refunds deposited into savings.