“Measure what is measurable, and make measurable what is not so.”
Would you rather have a good job, one with market wages and basic benefits, or a great job with market wages, competitive benefits and personal fulfillment? Do you wish to be employed with one full time job or choose to piece together your income with various part-time jobs that offer greater flexibility? In today’s world these questions are more ambiguous than ever. To quote the consulting industry, “it depends.”
There are abundant studies on these and other topics of work. Many studies today are measuring unemployment vs underemployment rates. Underemployment – those that are not fully utilized or receiving requisite benefits and wages for their skill/academic backgrounds – is high by most measures. However, the reasons for underemployment vary significantly. Many immigrants, minorities and women are underemployed because of continued bias in the workplace and in hiring practices. Many people choose to be underemployed to maintain a lifestyle that affords flexibility. This may be by choice to pursue other objectives in their spare time, or by circumstance for healthcare reasons, family, or student obligations, or this may simply be their choice because they can.
And then there’s technology. It offers part-time employment to thousands of people who work from home, or drive Uber, or provide home healthcare for example. Technology has also made much of our lives easier than ever before. At least in America, many of our basic needs are met if we can have either a solid job or we piece together an income in the “gig” economy. But some of us are working several jobs and have trouble piecing together a stable lifestyle.
What are the implications of this confusion in economic development? For one, it is harder to measure if your economic development goals are being achieved. It is especially hard to determine if your efforts are leading to higher wages, because many are opting to be paid less for all of the reasons above – even if higher wage jobs are available. Secondly, it is more difficult to predict tax revenue and consumer spending. Across history, if full-time employment rose, wages typically did in corresponding fashion. That is less true today, even though as economic activity picks up, more money is brought into the economy. Finally, it also means that less wealth is being created. In the gig economy, you can piece together a solid income, but you may sacrifice the long term benefits of career development and mastery, robust healthcare coverage, savings for retirement, and family wealth creation. But in the midst of this ambiguity, we must not give up as we look ahead toward our future.