When the “Great Resignation” intensified last year, theories abounded about why 40 million Americans quit their jobs – where are they heading? What do they want? Some even assumed they might not want to work. The data is there, and we now know that workers have been leaving their jobs Find the best ones. But what makes a good job?
Although the job market and economy are already affected by 40 million people seeking better quality jobs, there is no widely shared and widely accepted definition of what makes a good job. In fact, only 44 percent of the American workforce report that they have a “good job” based on their personal satisfaction with the characteristics of the job they are most interested in, according to Gallup research. It is a non-specific concept that shapes labor markets. Whether you are a business owner trying to do the right thing and retain your talent; a government trying to formulate effective policy; Or an investor seeking alpha by investing in companies that wisely invest in their people, this lack of a unified definition of such transformative economic power is a major challenge.
That’s why we — the Aspen Institute Economic Opportunity Program and the Families and Workers Trust — launched the Good Jobs Champions group to try and create an evidence-based, worker-view definition of what makes a good job. Guiding and endorsing leaders from various sectors, including small and large business, labor, workforce development, finance, academia, politics, and nonprofits, over the past year we have compiled more than 20 job quality definitions, examined a worker survey, and worked on Drafts with dozens of frontline workers and executives for companies large and small.
What emerged is a simple three-part definition: Good jobs provide 1) economic stability, 2) economic mobility, and 3) fairness, respect, and expression. Good jobs provide stability by providing a standard of living that allows workers to meet basic needs for themselves and their families. They provide mobility through fair employment, opportunities for learning and advancement, and the ability to save and build wealth over time. They show respect for workers regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, educational attainment, or any other characteristics, while engaging workers in workplace improvement and acting on their concerns.
According to the United Way, nearly one-third of the US population is working poor — employed but unable to reliably make ends meet, let alone plan ahead. Even for those whose jobs pay well and offer decent benefits like affordable health insurance, they may be affected by other job-quality challenges, such as gender pay gaps and racism — black women earn 0.64 cents for every dollar earned by white men — all of which are widespread. In the workplace, choppy scheduling practices, or controlling managers who don’t respond to employee feedback. Defining good jobs can help give us clearer language to talk about these labor market challenges, not as a set of interconnected problems that build on each other and together create the kind of pressures that drove 40 million people to quit.
Some argue that there can be no single definition of a good job because different people have individual preferences and considerations. For example, some may prioritize remote work arrangements, while others may value childcare or on-site fitness facilities. Defining champions of good jobs is not meant to eliminate differences between individual preferences and company practices, but rather to establish a baseline and ensure that no worker is forced to make trade-offs in necessities—such as family support wages, health insurance, training, advancement opportunities, and practices that root out racial and gender discrimination.
To be clear, a common definition of good jobs cannot solve problems on its own, but it is a necessary foundation and can help provide the North Star for work. We have been inspired by the tangible steps taken by many leaders. For example, some business leaders have made strides in creating high-quality jobs in what are often considered “low-wage” industries, partnering with workers to understand their living realities and needs through the Workers Financial Well-Being Initiative. State and local governments have innovated to meet the industry’s long-standing challenges, such as through Austin Builder Better Program To raise standards in the construction industry, legislation recently passed in California to create a board of Setting minimum working conditions across the fast food industry. Labor movements across the country have highlighted the neglected and underestimated workers and demanded dignity and respect.
Not all of us will agree on what actions to take, but we can agree on where we want to go – and that’s toward a future where every worker gets a good job that supports, raises and respects them.
Rachel Korberg is CEO and co-founder of the Families and Workers Trust.Maureen Conway is Vice President of the Aspen Institute and Executive Director of the Institute’s Economic Opportunity Program.