Upheaval in the labor market caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a renewed federal policy interest in improving job quality—especially for essential workers in the health care and child care sectors. Good job quality is vital for health, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has named it as a priority to prevent essential workers’ burn out.
At diversitydatakids.org, we research inequities in job quality for workers and families, and we have identified improving and updating data collection and measures as a critical step to developing policies that boost job quality. Yet, recent research shows that we lack the federal data infrastructure to describe the state of job quality for most working families who are eligible for HHS’ health and social programs, from mental health care to Head Start. We believe that additional data on job quality is vital to 1) inform employers’ and government agencies’ efforts to provide effective work supports that improve health, and 2) assess quality of employment benchmarks under HealthyPeople 2030’s social determinants of health.
Currently, no single federal data source exists that can measure the job quality principles advanced by the U.S. Departments of Commerce and of Labor (DOL), which go beyond pay and benefits to include job security, working conditions and career advancement. This lack of data limits efforts to track and promote positive health among workers and their families. Here, we summarize the current state of the federal survey infrastructure to measure equitable access to job quality and its effects on health, and we provide recommendations for improving data collection.
Issues in current job quality data collection
Through a comprehensive review of nine federally-sponsored worker surveys, including the Current Population Surveys (CPS AESC, Basic, ATUS, Special Supplements), American Community Survey (ACS), Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY), General Social Survey (GSS), Quality of Employment Survey (QES), National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), Household Pulse Survey and Federal Reserve Bank Survey of Consumer Finances, we identified the following issues.
- Some job quality measures are available, but scattered across federal surveys. The most detailed survey module of working conditions designed by HHS/NIOSH is no longer fielded.
- Wages and benefits are included in all surveys, but they are inconsistently measured and not comprehensive (e.g. health insurance and pensions, but no paid leave).
- The Good Jobs Principles include“family-sustaining” wages and benefits, but they do not define a specific threshold of basic needs. Three household surveys (CPS, ACS and SIPP) can be used to create either these measures or health measures, but not both. One survey (NLSY) includes both, but it is not representative of all U.S. workers.
- All worker surveys capture basic demographics such as race/ethnicity, sex and age, but do not include other underserved groups such as people with disabilities and LGBTQ+ individuals. Sample sizes vary, which limits estimation across multiple characteristics (e.g. race and sex).
- The largest federal surveys of workers used to estimate official employment and poverty statistics do not measure the Good Jobs Principles of DEIA (diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility).
Last year, the DOL established eight Good Jobs Principles. This evidence-based framework includes multiple dimensions of job quality that affect the health and economic well-being of workers and their families. Using existing data sources, there are immediate steps that HHS, DOL and Commerce can take to monitor job quality.
- Modify existing annually released DOL and Census reports on specific workers (e.g. immigrants, working families) and income/poverty to include the Good Jobs Principles of family-sustaining wages and benefits.
- Estimate a range of measures of family-sustaining wages using different definitions of living standards that include official poverty thresholds, supplemental poverty and family budgets (e.g. costs of basic expenses as defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics).
- Commission a comprehensive report analyzing all existing federal surveys to establish a baseline for monitoring job quality and health.
- Require reporting on job quality for underserved groups included in the Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity (when sample sizes are large enough to do so).
- Add at least three validated survey questions about employer-provided paid leave (family, medical and sick) to the new Household Pulse survey. With lingering concerns about health in the workplace, this data is needed to estimate the extent to which employers provide employees with equitable access to paid leave and the potential demand for state paid leave programs.
More details on these recommendations can be found in the Job Quality Measurement Initiative’s Final Report.
In the long-term, durable investments in job quality and health data infrastructure are needed for monitoring equitable access and policy development.
- Add a new job quality module to the Current Population Survey. Use existing questions from other federal surveys and, in the future, develop new questions.
- Add job quality to the National Health Interview Survey (and other health surveys like PRAMS). Later, increase the sample size and interview each family member.
- When available, match survey data to administrative data to get a full picture of job quality, workplace environment, program participation and health outcomes.
- Bring back a large-scale survey of job quality. Field previous job quality modules and update with new questions that reflect new labor market realties (e.g. gig workers).
The lack of formal federal monitoring of job quality limits data-driven policy development to advance the Good Jobs Principles. Filling this data gap can foster policy and practice discussions within and between federal agencies, Congress and advocacy organizations. This is necessary to improve work supports for lower-wage workers and workers in precarious arrangements, minimize the negative health impacts of poor working conditions and reduce the child opportunity gap by improving parents’ job quality.
See our 2023 presentation Improving job quality metrics to inform U.S. Good Jobs policies at the International Labour Organization’s Regulating Decent Work conference
Learn more about the Department of Labor’s Good Jobs Principles