How to Actually Make Sense of Job Numbers

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Even if you don't pay attention to politics, you've probably seen headlines crowing about how well the economy is doing. Jobless claims are down, and full employment could be just around the corner. Chances are, however, that you're wondering how that squares with your own experience. Maybe you're underemployed at the job you do have, or you're juggling a couple of part-time gigs, or you don't see any chance for career advancement in your office or in your field.


A group of experts is out to change the conversation about those widely reported statistics. They've developed something called the JQI: the U.S. Private Sector Job Quality Index. The JQI is a number between 1 and 100, and it measures the proportion of "desirable higher-wage/higher-hour jobs versus lower-wage/lower-hour jobs." Right now, the JQI is 80.62, which means there are just under 81 jobs that pay a good wage for every 100 jobs that pay poorly.

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"The problem is that quality of the stock of jobs on offer has been deteriorating for the last 30 years," JQI co-creator Dan Alpert told Quartz. It's not a particularly rosy outlook, to be sure, but that doesn't mean there's nothing to be done about it. The key is to understand that some approaches are going to be individual — e.g., doing everything you can to find your career niche and make yourself an attractive candidate — and some are going to be systemic. That involves getting in touch with organizations and elected representatives, whatever your beliefs about cause and effect.


In the meantime, give yourself a bit of a psychological break if you're having a tough time with jobs or hunting for jobs. A plurality of us, more or less, are pretty underemployed.