Making Jobs Good

Before I went on vacation last week, CEPR put out a new report that Janelle Jones and I wrote evaluating the impact of five different policies that seek to improve job quality in the United States.

The policies we examined were universal health insurance, a universal retirement system (over and above Social Security), a large increase in college attainment, a large increase in unionization, and gender pay equity.

Here are the main findings, from the executive summary:

First, reconnecting job quality to economic growth will likely require big steps. The policies simulated in this paper would all qualify as major policy initiatives, yet none would create a sufficient number of good jobs to employ even half of the U.S. workforce.

Second, eliminating bad jobs appears to be easier than creating good jobs. Most of the proposals examined –especially universal programs such as universal health care or a universal retirement plan– do more to reduce the share of bad jobs than they do to increase the share of good jobs. (Our classification system divides jobs into three categories: good jobs, bad jobs, and jobs that fall in between.)

Third, a combination of complementary policies appears to be significantly more effective than if any one of the policies is enacted on its own. Separate implementation of a universal retirement plan or health insurance would both greatly boost the share of workers in good jobs, but the simultaneous implementation of both policies would raise the good-jobs share by more than the sum of the two distinct policies.

Fourth, gender pay equity would go a substantial way towards eliminating the large good-jobs gap between men and women. By our calculations, a policy of pay equity for women and men with the same educational qualifications would reduce the gender good-jobs gap by about 90 percent.

Finally, increasing unionization appears to be substantially more effective than a comparable expansion of college attainment. Given that increasing college attainment is a long and expensive process, these findings suggest the importance of emphasizing unionization as much or more than college attainment as a key path to improving job quality.

And here is a chart with the results of the main policy simulations:

You can read the whole report here (pdf).


  1. Bob Hertz says:

    John, I have followed the work of CEPR for years and appreciated it.

    I too want universal health care and more education and many more unions.

    These will absolutely make bad jobs easier to live with, and that in itself is to be praised.

    However, I do not see how they will create more good jobs.

    If Walmart has to provide health insurance, or pay more taxes to accomplish the same thing, that is fine.

    But this will not lead Walmart to double wages from $10 to $20 an hour, will it?

    Unions almost always lead to fewer but better jobs.

    Perhaps I am missing a step here, let me know.

    Bob Hertz, The Health Care Crusade

  2. John Schmitt says:

    Thanks, Bob. Two quick thoughts in response to your comment.

    First, the focus in our report is on policies that can improve job *quality*. The most immediate challenge we face at the moment, however, is job *quantity*. In my view, the single most important determinant of job quantity is macroeconomic policy. Getting macro policy right would restore full employment, pretty much regardless of the particular measures discussed here around job quality.

    Second, when it comes to health insurance, my own preference would be a universal health care system that is independent of a person’s employer (something along the lines of “Medicare For All”).

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