William Spriggs is the 2016 recipient of the Robert. M. Ball Award for Outstanding Contributions in Social Insurance, which was bestowed at a dinner banquet on June 21, 2016. His illustrious career to date – spanning unions, public service, nonprofit think tanks, government, and academia – has focused on maximizing equity, fairness and inclusion through social insurance.
Spriggs is currently Chief Economist to the AFL-CIO and Professor of Economics at Howard University. In 2009, he was appointed by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate to serve as Assistant Secretary for the Office of Policy at the United States Department of Labor, an appointment that he held until 2012. In all of these roles, he has made substantial contributions consistent with the spirit, ideals, and work of Bob Ball.
“Bill Spriggs is a trailblazer for economic justice,” said Maya Rockeymoore, President and CEO of Global Policy Solutions and Academy Board member. “His commitment to ensuring economic equality, worker safety, and expanding opportunities for all Americans, has literally forged a path where there wasn’t one before. He is a worthy recipient of the Robert M. Ball award and I am humbled to call him a mentor and a friend.”
After expressing interest in becoming a civil rights lawyer as a young man, Spriggs was encouraged instead to pursue a degree in economics by Howard University faculty, who informed him of the dearth of economists tackling issues pertaining to economic justice. Taking their advice, Spriggs envisioned for himself a career in which he could translate law into economic policy. While still in graduate school, he began his labor career as co-president of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 3220 in Madison, Wisconsin. Working at one of the largest and diverse bargaining units in the country taught Spriggs many lessons about the economics of higher education and how to organize and rally.
Later, he served as chairman for the Healthcare Trust for United Auto Workers (UAW) Union Retirees of the Ford Motor Company, a position that allowed him, along with his then-colleague David Hirschland, to devise a transition vehicle for healthcare costs at Ford. Spriggs’ and Hirschland’s modifications to the trust fund allowed workers who retired to continue to receive healthcare after the trust fund was handed off to a voluntary benefits association, even during and after the economic downturn, a hugely successful achievement for the benefit of thousands of workers. Spriggs also served chairman of the UAW Retirees of the Dana Corporation Health and Welfare Trust the National Academy of Public Administration’s Committee on the Fiscal Future for the United States, and the United Food & Commercial Workers National Commission on ICE Misconduct and Violations of Fourth Amendment Rights, positions that highlight his commitment to working on behalf of disenfranchised workers.
In the public service sector, he was staff director for the independent, federal National Commission for Employment Policy. As Assistant Secretary for Policy at the Department of Labor from 2009 to 2012, Spriggs worked with a team to coordinate regulatory processes, develop metrics for expectations on health, and ensured those efforts incorporated inclusive growth. During his tenure, Spriggs represented the United States and played a key role in helping draft The ILO Social Protection Floors Recommendation of 2012. Much like the Academy’s work on an international level, this recommendation encourages other countries to think about comprehensive social security systems and aims to ensure that all members of society enjoy at least a basic level of social security throughout their lives. Spriggs also served as Senior Advisor for the Office of Government Contracting and Minority Business Development for the U.S. Small Business Administration, as a Senior Advisor and Economist for the Economics and Statistics Administration for the U.S. Department of Commerce in 1997 and 1998. He worked on the passage of the increase in the minimum wage as an economist for the Democratic staff of the Joint Economic Committee of Congress from 1994 to 1997. As Vice Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Political Education and Leadership Institute, Spriggs received the Congressional Black Caucus Chairman’s Award by then CBC Chair Elijah Cummings in 2004.
‘It is an honor to recognize Bill Spriggs’s ongoing contributions to advancing social insurance in the area of economic inequality for today’s workers and for future generations,” said William J. Arnone, Chair of the Academy’s Board of Directors. “His commitment to ensuring economic security for all Americans bolsters the Academy’s goal in our endeavors to educate the public about social insurance.”
Spriggs has extensive experience in the nonprofit sector leading economic policy development and research as a Senior Fellow and Economist at the Economic Policy Institute from 2004 to 2005 and as Executive Director for the Institute for Opportunity and Equality of the National Urban League from 1988 until 2004. Spriggs was also Senior Fellow of the Community Service Society of New York, and served on the boards of the National Employment Law Project and the Eastern Economic Association.
His insightful scholarship has underscored the importance of social insurance to the U.S. economy and to vulnerable populations such as low-income workers, women, and people of color. While earning his Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Wisconsin, he published in both academic and popular journals. Spriggs graduated with a B.A. from Williams College in 1977 and received his Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1984. An ardent supporter of the Academy, Spriggs served on its board from 2006-2009 and has been a member since 1999.