Alexander Acosta, the new secretary of Labor, has a valuable opportunity to focus on the needs of a large and fast-growing segment of the American workforce — hourly workers.

Due to market forces, technological change and economic disruptions such as the rise of the gig economy, the number of hourly workers in the U.S. has risen 15% in the past 20 years — from 69.2 million in 1996 to nearly 80 million in 2016. The unique challenges of hourly workers, and their employers, deserve special attention from policymakers.

That’s why I encourage Mr. Acosta to convene a commission on the status of the hourly workforce, bringing together business executives, worker representatives and academics to evaluate how federal policies can be brought into alignment with the realities of today’s fast-changing labor market — and in a way that meets the needs of both employees and employers.

One issue the commission can address is wages. While raising the federal minimum wage requires congressional action, the commission could offer guidance. After all, the current rate of $7.25 per hour, which hasn’t been increased in eight years, provides just 75% of the purchasing power it did at its peak in 1968.

Of course, most workers want an increase in the minimum wage, but what might surprise readers is that most employers do, too. Because my company connects 80 million workers with hourly jobs at 300,000 employer locations, we regularly conduct intensive survey research on both sides of the equation. And we found that both workers and employers think minimum wage should be higher. In our recent employer survey, we found that 69% of employers favor an increase, and 93% of workers said the same in a recent survey we did for an upcoming report.

How to explain this? First, due to labor market shortages, many employers already are increasing their wages to recruit and retain qualified employees, and a higher minimum wage would level the playing field. Second, employers find that the cost of rising wages is mitigated by the benefits from lower turnover, better morale and improved productivity.

But what should the federal minimum wage be? Our research has found a “sweet spot” of around $10 an hour, a level that a majority of hourly workers and employers alike would find acceptable. Of course, states and cities with higher costs of living are free to set their own higher minimum wages, as many have done in recent years.

We also need to consider whether the minimum wage should either be indexed to inflation or set to increase automatically by a modest amount each year. That’s because employers, above all else, want certainty and predictability. Allowing the minimum wage to stagnate for another decade followed by a huge jump is in no one’s best interests.

Another issue is scheduling. While some people do hourly work because they’re the only jobs available, others choose it because they value flexibility, to accommodate other responsibilities and goals they have in life. Similarly, many hourly jobs are part-time, which some workers prefer and others do not. In addition, consistency in scheduling is an issue for some workers, because they need to plan ahead, especially when factors like child care are involved.

As with minimum wage, the question is whether we can find common ground where employers can maximize efficiency in staffing while also allowing workers to meet their needs, whether they involve flexibility, consistency or the quantity of hours worked.

Here, the solution lies with new technologies that can obviate the need for government action. There have been remarkable breakthroughs recently in the use of mobile scheduling applications that empower both employers and employees with the tools to get what they want. Think of transforming the staffing and scheduling process the same way Uber transformed transportation. These applications can make it easy for workers to swap shifts when they need to, pick up shifts when they want more hours, and gain more control over their lives.

A third issue the commission could review is whether federal labor laws and regulations should be brought into the 21st century to accommodate hourly and gig economy workers. The old paradigm of one employee with one full-time job for one employer is no longer relevant to many of today’s workers — especially millennials, who will comprise nearly 75% of all workers by 2025.

It’s increasingly common for workers to piece together full-time-equivalent positions through jobs at multiple employers, sometimes involving traditional arrangements and other times involving gig economy work as independent contractors. Again, the goal should be to find the sweet spot enabling both employers to efficiently hire talented employees, while at the same time helping workers to live more fulfilling lives and gain economic security.

These are complex, challenging issues. They deserve the full attention of a commission focused on coming up with creative new ways to make our economy work for everyone. I can think of no better goal for a new secretary of Labor.

Peter Harrison is an employment trends expert and the Chief Executive Officer of Snagajob, the nation’s largest hourly marketplace connecting 80 million hourly workers and 300,000 employers.

Source: USA Today