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The quality of jobs.

The Quality of Jobs

What makes jobs "good"? Time was when most of us would have answered that question simply in terms of pay. Today, we are likely to ask also about benefits offered, about steadiness of the work, and about other job conditions.

Four articles in this issue of the Monthly Labor Review explore different ways we assess job quality. Job characteristics. Because people devote so much time and effort to their jobs, the nature of the job as well as the conditions of the workplace are, along with pay, important determinants of the value of employment. In "More than wages at issue in the job quality debate," Neal Rosenthal provides a review of the job attributes most commonly valued by workers in looking at the quality of the job they do.

Rosenthal notes that developing measures of overall job "quality" is difficult because the same job characteristics may be valued quite differently by different persons (for example, some may seek outdoor work while others shun it). Although the pay level established for the position is important, job attributes and working conditions also are of wide interest. Contingent work. Among the most valued attributes of a job of high quality is security and constancy of employment. While part-time employment and flexibility in working hours meet the needs of many workers and their families, concern has developed about the phenomenon of contingent jobs. These are jobs in which security of ongoing employment is limited. Because "contingency of employment" is difficult to measure directly, some researchers have used new groupings of employment statistics to estimate the extent of contingent employment.

In "On the definition of `contingent work'," Anne E. Polivka and Thomas Nardone evaluate these data and assess their adequacy in providing the information needed. The authors conclude that existing employment data are not well-suited to measure contingent employment, and outline the steps needed to collect the type of data they believe will better identify this segment of the labor market. Flexible benefits. What were once called "fringe" benefits have become essential to many workers and their families. Increasing attention has been focused on noncash benefit compensation, such as pension rights, health insurance coverage, and employee leave. Some employee benefits plans now let workers choose the types of benefits they want their employers to provide. These plans reflect the diversity of workers' needs, and help employees balance their work and family responsibilities.

In "Flexible benefit plans: employees who have a choice," Joseph R. Meisenheimer II and William J. Wiatrowski report on the prevalence of flexible benefit plans among medium-sized and large employers, and review case studies of employee choices made when such plans are introduced. Costs versus value. How much do workers value these noncash benefits? When is the value to the employee equal to the dollar cost of the benefit to the employer? Melissa Famulari and Marilyn E. Manser tackle these difficult questions in "Employer-provided benefits: employer cost versus employee value," by reviewing measurement issues and relating them to economic theory.

They recognize that cost may not be a good proxy for the value of the benefit to the worker. They suggest that more could be learned about how to value benefits by surveying workers to determine whether they would choose less benefits in exchange for more cash, and by studying the relationship between family spending patterns and employer-provided benefits. THE DIVERSITY OF THESE ARTICLES illustrates the complexity of job quality issues, and of the whole range of expectations and needs that workers have from their jobs. Wider recognition of this diversity will help us improve our understanding of the labor market and suppress the inclination to classify jobs as "good" or "bad."
COPYRIGHT 1989 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Date:Dec 1, 1989
Previous Article:Investing in People: Strategy to Address America's Workforce Crisis.
Next Article:More than wages at issue in job quality debate.

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