In an era in which CEOs typically earn 373 times more than their workers, democratic employee-owned businesses could provide the key to reducing income inequality and closing the wealth gap in the United States.

That is the central finding in “Reducing Economic Inequality through Democratic Worker-Ownership” by Shannon Rieger, the inaugural recipient of The Century Foundation’s Janice Nittoli “Forward Thinking” Award.

In her report, Rieger argues that a robust regulatory framework for worker-cooperatives, and other employee-owned businesses in the United States, would have significant benefits for workers, businesses, and communities.

“Mired in an income and wealth inequality crisis with no apparent end in sight, and grappling with an economy still recovering from the aftermath of the global financial crisis, the United States is sorely in need of solutions to build a stable, sustainable economy that works for all its citizens,” writes Rieger.

“Democratic worker-ownership offers a way forward. Throughout the world, worker-cooperatives have a proven track record of successfully combating unemployment, mitigating income disparities, expanding wealth-building business ownership opportunities, and promoting strong, sustainable local economies.”

As the inaugural recipient of the Janice Nittoli “Forward Thinking” Award, Rieger received a stipend of $7,500 to develop her innovative policy solution to inequality. The award was created in honor of Janice Nittoli, who served as TCF’s president from August 2011 to March 2014, when she retired due to illness. The Janice Nittoli “Forward Thinking” Award, available only to researchers under the age of 30, ensures that a new generation of policy scholars will continue to pursue TCF’s mission of promoting economic security and opportunity for all Americans.

“The Century Foundation is proud to support the next generation of policy innovators through the Janice Nittoli ‘Forward Thinking’ Award. This report from Shannon Rieger is an important step towards concrete policy change that could move the needle on income inequality and wealth disparity,” said TCF President, Mark Zuckerman.

“TCF’s founder, Edward Filene, was a passionate advocate for worker empowerment and I am proud to say that 100 years on, TCF remains firmly committed to ensuring that America’s prosperity is shared among its people.”

Applications for the Janice Nittoli Forward Thinking Award will reopen in Fall 2016.