When the “Great Resignation” heated up last year, theories abounded about why 40 million Americans were quitting their jobs—where were they headed? What did they want? Some even posited that maybe they just didn’t want to work. The data is in, and now we know that workers were leaving their jobs to find better ones. But what makes a job good?
Despite the labor market and economy already having been rocked by the quest of 40 million people seeking better quality jobs, there is no widely shared, broadly accepted definition of what makes a job good. In fact, only 44 percent of the U.S. workforce report having a “good job” based on their personal satisfaction with the job characteristics they care most about, according to Gallup research. It is an undefined concept that shapes labor markets. Whether you are an employer trying to do the right thing and retain your talent; a government trying to craft effective policy; or an investor seeking alpha by investing in the companies that invest most wisely in their people, this lack of a standard definition for such a transformative economic force is a major challenge.
That’s why we—the Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program and the Families and Workers Fund—launched the Good Jobs Champions Group to attempt to create an evidence-based, worker-informed definition of what makes a job good. With the guidance and endorsement of leaders from across sectors, including small and large business, labor, workforce development, finance, academia, policy, and nonprofits, over the past year we synthesized more than 20 definitions of job quality, examined worker opinion polling, and workshopped drafts with dozens of frontline workers and executives of large and small companies.
What emerged is a simple, three-part definition: good jobs provide 1) economic stability, 2) economic mobility, and 3) equity, respect, and voice. 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 equitable hiring, opportunities to learn and advance, and the ability to save and build wealth over time. And they show respect to workers regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, educational attainment, or other characteristics, while engaging workers in improving the workplace and acting upon their concerns.
According to the United Way, roughly one-third of the U.S. is the working poor—employed yet unable to reliably make ends meet, never mind plan for the future. Even for those whose jobs pay well and provide adequate benefits like affordable health insurance, they may be impacted by other job quality challenges, such as gender and racial pay gaps—Black women earn .64 cents for every dollar white men earn—all too widespread workplace sexual harassment, volatile scheduling practices, or controlling managers who are not responsive to employee feedback. A definition of good jobs can help to give us clearer language to talk about these labor market challenges not as one-offs but as a set of interrelated problems that build on each other and together create the type of pressures that spurred 40 million to quit.
Some argue that there cannot be one definition of a good job because different people have individual preferences and considerations. For example, some may prioritize remote work arrangements, whereas others may value onsite childcare or fitness facilities. The Good Jobs Champions’ definition is not meant to drown out differences among individual preferences and firm practices, but rather to establish a baseline and ensure that no worker is forced to make tradeoffs in the essentials — like family sustaining pay, health insurance, training and advancement opportunities, and practices that uproot racial and gender discrimination.
To be clear, a shared definition of good quality jobs can’t solve problems on its own, but it is a necessary foundation and can help to provide a north star for action. We are inspired by concrete steps many leaders have taken. For example, some business leaders have made strides creating high-quality jobs in what are often considered “low-wage” industries, and partnered with workers to understand their lived realities and needs through the Worker Financial Wellness Initiative. State and local governments have innovated to address longstanding industry challenges, such as through Austin’s Better Builder Program to raise standards in the construction industry and California’s recently passed legislation creating a council to set minimum working conditions across the fast food industry. Worker movements across the country have shined a light on overlooked, underestimated workers and demanded dignity and respect.
We won’t all agree on which actions to take, but we can agree on where we want to go — and that’s toward a future in which every worker has access to a good job that sustains, uplifts, and respects them.
Rachel Korberg is the executive director and co-founder of the Families and Workers Fund.Maureen Conway is vice president at the Aspen Institute and executive director of the Institute’s Economic Opportunities Program.
Read More: A new definition of what makes a job good