Brief Job Quality and Wage Records
The Potential Role of Administrative Wage Data for Understanding Job Quality
William J. Congdon, Batia Katz
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The wage records collected as part of the federal-state unemployment insurance (UI) system are a potential source of detailed information on job quality. In their current form, however, the picture these data provide on job quality remains relatively narrow, and access to the data for broader programmatic, statistical, and research purposes is limited. In this brief, we bring the lens of job quality measurement to the issue of UI wage records enhancement, provide a brief scan of the current wage record landscape, and identify promising directions for experimentation and innovation.

Why This Matters

Researchers and policymakers increasingly recognize the importance of job quality in contributing to worker well-being and labor market outcomes. But a full and accurate assessment of the quality of jobs held by workers in the United States is hindered by limited data on both central features of work and important classes of jobs and workers. These limits not only constrain efforts to describe job quality trends and distributions, but also hamper the progress of research needed to understand the determinants and importance of job quality, as well as hold back efforts to design policies and implement and operate programs that can improve job quality.

Key Takeaways

  • Wage records are administrative data collected as part of the federal-state UI system that include information on covered workers’ quarterly earnings and sometimes additional information.
  • Beyond wages themselves, numerous states collect data on additional fields, such as hours worked or job title. Many of these additional fields can be useful for measuring job quality because they allow researchers to get a fuller picture of working conditions and other information that can contextualize and add to analyses of earnings alone.
  • Policymakers, program officials, and researchers have in recent years considered and studied options for enhancing these data. Enhancing these data for better job quality measurement involves changes along two related but distinct dimensions:
    • The first expanding what is in the data to better measure job quality—by including additional fields, collecting the data more frequently, or potentially capturing information on additional jobs—as well as standardizing data across states.
    • The second is to expand data access to a wider range of users and for a broader range of purposes, especially in a way that allows for data aggregation across states, to provide a national perspective on job quality.
  • Recognizing the potential benefits of enhancing these data—both for measuring job quality and supporting a range of labor market data and measurement objectives—policymakers, program officials, and researchers have engaged in recent and ongoing initiatives to make progress on some aspects of enhancement.
Research Areas Workforce
Tags Employment and income data Job quality and workplace standards Job markets and labor force Unemployment and unemployment insurance Building America’s Workforce
Policy Centers Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population