CHAMPAIGN, Ill. —A team of University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign labor experts has developed a metric for measuring the quality of jobs throughout the state of Illinois. The findings are a mix of positive and negative news for Illinois workers.
Called the “Employment Quality of Illinois,” the indicator was based on research comparing data collected from more than 3,500 Illinois workers in fall 2021 – an extension of a pre-COVID-19 survey conducted in fall 2019.
“The importance of job quality was thrown into sharp relief by the pandemic-era labor market conditions of 2020-21, when frontline and essential workers were lauded as ‘heroes’ by their employers and the public, yet faced ongoing occupational health and safety hazards, unpredictable work schedules, and inadequate or excessive work hours,” said Robert Bruno, a professor of labor and employment relations at Illinois and a co-author of the research.
Using a scale of 0-10, the average worker in Illinois assessed their own job quality as 6.8. Overall, a quarter of workers in Illinois regarded their employment situation as very high quality – a 9 or 10 on the scale – while more than a quarter of workers rated their job quality as low or very low. Union members rated their employment quality almost a full point higher than workers without union representation, according to the research.
The study also found that about 63% of all part-time workers were underemployed and only 29% were satisfied with their number of work hours. Among full-time workers, about 44% were satisfied with their work hours.
The indicator was composed of seven core dimensions, each with associated components. They included subjective and objective measures connected to job satisfaction, life satisfaction, worker health and well-being, and work-life balance, conflict and integration.
The findings also paint a more difficult employment picture for women, single parents, racial and ethnic minorities, and workers with disabilities.
“Those groups tend to have less access to high-quality jobs,” Bruno said. “They tend to have jobs with lower-quality benefits than partnered parents, men, white workers and workers without disabilities. While those workers are already disadvantaged in the labor market, their lack of benefits makes them even more vulnerable to unsafe working conditions and economic hardship.”
The labor market recovery after the COVID-19 shutdowns only further revealed both the degraded conditions of work and the importance of improving a number of job characteristics in order to enhance workers’ job-quality measures, Bruno said.
“Our report argues that there needs to be a focus on the quality of the employment relationship and job content,” Bruno said. “The future of work depends on both the prevalence and availability of jobs, but also on what makes a job inherently ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ The so-called ‘Great Resignation’ that followed appeared at first glance to be about burnout or labor force withdrawal, but it was actually more about worker mobility – their ability to find jobs that have better working conditions than their previous job.
“Thus, it’s crucial that attention be paid to the underlying factors of quality employment and workplaces.”
The implications of the study suggest that the state of Illinois ought to formally adopt the indicator’s seven components as a statewide job-quality measurement and track those numbers annually, Bruno said.
“Public bodies should allocate tax dollars to private employers based on the firms creating or upgrading the quality of their jobs,” he said. “Ideally, the state of Illinois should require most employers to collect and submit data to the state on these job-quality metrics, and the state should produce annual reports on the trends in these metrics and associated outcomes for workers and labor markets.”
To meaningfully increase the labor force participation rate as well as worker well-being outcomes, the evolution of work and job quality in the COVID-19 -era can’t be left purely to the mechanics of the market, Bruno said.
“Work writ large is a social convention dependent on public policy,” he said. “This research is an investment in the belief that robust research and evidence can inform improved policymaking to help produce better outcomes for working people.”
Bruno’s co-authors are Dylan Bellisle, Alison Dickson, Peter Fugiel and Larissa Petrucci of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; and Lonnie Golden of Pennsylvania State University.
A data dashboard featuring the study’s findings is available at https://employmentquality.illinois.edu/findings/.
The paper is part of the Project for Middle Class Renewal, a research-based initiative tasked with investigating the labor market institutions and policies in today’s economy while elevating public discourse on issues affecting workers. The project is directed by Bruno.