Area of Concern

Equitable Enterprise

In 2018, Blue Shield of California Foundation (BSCF) and Institute for the Future (IFTF) set out to explore how present and future work conditions impact the health, broadly defined, of workers, their families, and their communities. At the time we started our research project, millions of California workers were experiencing challenging economic realities—rent was growing much faster than typical hourly wages so much so that one in six California residents struggled to afford basic necessities. Meanwhile, the economy was experiencing the longest economic expansion in recorded history.

We chose to share our findings through future scenarios, or stories from the future, because stories humanize topics that are often discussed through data, charts and policy briefs. We wanted people to experience firsthand the emerging trends and drivers shaping the future of work to better imagine how work will impact the overall health and well being of California workers and their families. Visualizing how diverse future forces intersect, interact and shape people’s lives together all at once drives us to act today to design health-affirming work. Stories remind us that the future is not something that is preordained, and we all have the power to shape our collective outcomes.

View these three possible futures:

  • How can more California workers and their families reap the benefits of changes happening to the way they work?
  • What new risks and potential innovations are California workers and their families exposed to?
  • What action could you take today to amplify and accelerate this future? Or, what action could you take today to prevent this future from occurring?
IFTF BSCF future of work and health report cover

1. Life on Wheels

“Life on Wheels” explores what the living experience for many Californians might look like in 2030 if today’s trends around a declining supply of quality jobs, increasing housing costs and other living expenses, and growing numbers of people working non-traditional work hours continue. What would it look like in the next decade if we don’t make any meaningful changes to make it easier for all single mothers to earn enough to cover the everyday costs including rent, groceries and childcare in many places in the state?

2. Workers First

“Workers First” takes a look at what happens when a generation of aging Baby Boomers, who own the majority of small businesses across the United States, decide it’s time to retire. What if these owners convert their existing businesses into employer-owned companies? What kinds of innovative actions would it take to scale this innovative approach to tackling extreme wealth inequality?

3. Humans, Automated

“Humans, Automated” looks at two powerful forces beyond workers’ control: automation and climate change. As artificial intelligence systems begin to work “alongside” human workers, what are the health effects of constant monitoring and surveillance? And, if the external force of climate change spurs recurring natural disasters and new pandemics, how will these unforeseen forces upend the economic conditions for the state, exacerbating existing health risks, both physical and mental, while creating new ones? What might work look and feel like ten years from now if we haven’t built the resilience to withstand future external shocks?


In 2018, Blue Shield of California Foundation and Institute for the Future set out to explore how present and future work conditions impact the health, broadly defined, of workers, their families, and their communities. The research process was divided into 3 phases.

In Phase 1 of the research, IFTF conducted 17 informant interviews to consider a broad range of opinions on the forces informing and influencing the changing nature of work and the implications on health and economic security for California workers and their families.

In Phase 2, we implemented a human-centered approach to illuminate the consequences that the working conditions are having and will have on the health of individuals, families, and communities. We wanted to paint a fuller picture of the new health risk factors and vulnerabilities emerging alongside the growing economic insecurity. To accomplish this, IFTF undertook an ethnographic study to understand how daily life for people, families, and communities is steeped in these highly precarious working arrangements. We conducted 10 in home, in-depth interviews in the Central Valley, Los Angeles County and Inland Empire, East Bay, and Sacramento County. We recruited people, with a preference for women, people of color, and first-generation immigrants involved in care work, gig work, split shift work, and newly economically insecure due to the impacts of the fissuring of work. We also interviewed people who are experiencing homelessness and those who are commuting more than 90 minutes for work. (See Appendix for more details on recruitment, interview instrument, and high-level findings.)

In Phase 3, we created scenarios (“stories from the future”) by combining expert interviews and ethnographic interviews with IFTF’s ongoing foresight research in health, technology and work to identify the critical informing and influencing forces that are shaping the health and economic security for California workers and their families. We applied this improved understanding of the health risks and emerging vulnerabilities connected to the new work environment to inform our scenario development. The three video scenarios aimed to bring current trends and innovations to life to help people imagine what different work experiences could be like in the future depending on the actions we take, or don’t take, in the present.

In the Media

"For many workers, work is a threat to well-being," by IFTF Research Director, Rachel Maguire. (8/30/21) CALMatters.


Rachel Maguire | Co-Project Director | IFTF Research Director
[email protected] | 650-233-9525

Jean Hagan | IFTF Executive Producer
[email protected] | 650.854.6322

About IFTF

Institute for the Future is the world’s leading futures organization. For over 50 years, businesses, governments, and social impact organizations have depended upon IFTF global forecasts, custom research, and foresight training to navigate complex change and develop world-ready strategies. IFTF methodologies and toolsets yield coherent views of transformative possibilities across all sectors that together support a more sustainable future. Institute for the Future is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Palo Alto, California.

About BSCF

Blue Shield of California Foundation is one of the state's largest and most trusted grantmaking organizations.
Our mission is to build lasting and equitable solutions that make California the healthiest state and end domestic violence.

Filmmaking by Demetrius Wren

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