Occupation, Earnings, and Job Characteristics [REPORT]

Work is a critical component of our lives and provides a way to obtain material and nonmonetary benefits like employer-provided health insurance. Scholars suggest that our identities are also tied to the notion of “what we do” (Christiansen, 1999), and that who we are is determined partly by our occupational identity (Skorikov and Vondracek, 2011). However, work is time consuming—the American Time Use Survey shows that in 2017 workers spent an average 8.21 hours each day engaged in work and work-related activities (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018). Given the overarching centrality of work in daily life, researchers and policymakers have increasingly turned their attention to examining job quality.

Though it is not easily defined, job quality can broadly be described as the features of employ ment affecting an individual’s well-being (OECD, 2014). Job quality is a multidimensional concept, with considerable disagreement regarding how to best measure it (Burchell et al., 2014; Findlay, Kalleberg, and Warhurst, 2013; Muñoz de Bustillo et al., 2011). Studies examining job quality have focused on a wide range of indicators including nonwage benefits, employment security, and individual control over job schedule and autonomy (Howell and Kalleberg, 2019). Scholars also note that job quality—and more broadly work quality—may depend on workers’ assessment of their own individual circumstances, values, and employment conditions (Cooke, Donaghey, and Zeytinoglu, 2013).

To further understand how some features of job quality vary across the labor market, the current report describes objective characteristics that are associated with individuals’ employment and notes how these features differ by occupation. Moreover, this report evaluates the relationship between occupation and each objective characteristic separately. Because individuals may assign different value or meaning to similar jobs based on their own personal preferences, this report does not assess overall job quality or desirability.

Using data from two surveys administered by the U.S. Census Bureau, this report highlights common features of employment among the U.S. population, including their occupations, work schedules, earnings, and other job characteristics. The data mainly come from the 2018 Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP)—a survey that is administered annually and asks respondents about their living situation and employment during the preceding calendar year. Select figures also use data from the 2018 American Community Survey (ACS) 1-year estimates to identify jobs with especially high or low earnings, and to highlight the earnings variation that exists within more broadly aggregated occupation categories.

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