How Many Americans Have ‘Good’ Jobs?

Having a job is one thing. Having a good job is another. If you’re a professional who endured the Great Recession, earning a paycheck was your main concern. From a broader economic perspective, those tough times ended in June 2009, the official close of the last recession, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, which tracks business cycle expansions and contractions. Your personal experience might be very different, however. Just because there are more job openings in today’s market, doesn’t mean they’re good jobs.

good jobs
Image Credit: The All-Nite Images/Flickr

What Is a Good Job?

Everyone has their own definition, but most would agree that a good job offers a few essential things, including earning potential and benefits, as well as intangibles like work-life balance and rewarding work. Still, it’s hard to generalize and come up with one answer for what a good job is for everyone.

For instance, a good job for a worker who is single and childless is probably going differ from one for a professional who is married with kids. Likewise, someone who is just starting out in their career will have a different definition compared to someone at mid-career (e.g. 401(k) options, vacation, etc.). However, for the sake of this article, we’ll have to work with what the different bodies of research have to say.

If you’re asking Gallup, then a “good job” is considered “one with 30+ hours of work a week with a consistent paycheck from an employer.” Each month, Gallup conducts a poll that tracks the percentage of U.S. adults whose jobs meet the aforementioned requirements, called the Gallup Good Jobs (GGJ) rate. According to its poll of nearly 30,400 participants, the GGJ is 46 percent for June 2016, which is the highest monthly rate since 2010, when measurement commenced. In other words, nearly half of U.S. adults have “good jobs,” according to Gallup’s standards.

The Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR), on the other hand, indicates that a good job is “one that pays at least $37,000 per year, has employer-provided health insurance, and an employer-sponsored retirement plan.” According to CEPR’s estimates, the number of U.S. workers with “good jobs” has declined over the decades, falling from 27.4 percent in 1979 to 24.6 percent in 2010. When factors like increase in age and education are controlled, it’s estimated that the economy has “lost about one-third of its capacity to generate good jobs,” compared to 1979.

The Realities of Today’s Economy

Today’s workforce is much more educated than generations prior, so why don’t more people have good jobs? Much of the American workforce believes that the economy is still trying to recover from the massive hit of the Great Recession of 2007. While that may be partially correct, the reality is that the U.S. has been recovering from its recession since mid-2009, seven years ago.

In fact, as U.S. News points out, more Americans are employed today than any other time in U.S. history. Some 14 million new job positions have been created since the recession hit, and the national unemployment rate of 4.9 percent is at near pre-recessionary lows. If you look at the latest job report figures, it appears that the job market (and the economy) is doing quite well. However, if you take a closer look at the numbers, you’ll notice that a disproportionate number of those jobs being added are low-wage jobs. Since 2006, wages have risen 9.5 percent overall in the U.S., but when inflation is factored in, “real wages” are down 7.4 percent, compared with 2006, according to the The PayScale Index. Essentially this means that a person’s income today affords him less than it did before the recession.

Where Have All the Good Jobs Gone?

The CEPR suggests that the decline in good jobs is “related to a deterioration in the bargaining power of workers” that is a result of “the large-scale restructuring of the labor market that began at the end of the 1970s and continues to the present.” More specifically, the CEPR says the following have contributed to the decline in bargaining power among American professionals:

  1. Decline in private-sector union workers from 23 percent in 1979 to less than 8 percent today.
  2. Deregulation of several large industries, including trucking, airlines, and telecommunications, which is very costly to workers.
  3. Privatizing and outsourcing of state and local government jobs.
  4. Trade policies that put lower- and middle-class workers in the U.S. in direct competition with lower-wage workers in the rest of the world.
  5. A dysfunctional immigration system that leaves immigrant workers in the U.S. at the mercy of their employers.

When it’s all said and done, it looks like the issue here is quality versus quantity. If you’re looking for a “good job” that tops the charts all around, then you may want to consider a profession in the healthcare industry.

Tell Us What You Think

What’s your definition of a good job? Share your thoughts with our community on Twitter, or leave your comment below.