Economic Security and Worker Well-beingPosted on by
The future of work incorporates ongoing and future changes to the workplace, work, and workforce. Understanding the adaptations in how work is being performed and the associated consequences on worker safety, health, and well-being is essential and requires sustained attention from occupational safety and health researchers and their partners. To meet the challenges and opportunities presented by the future of work, NIOSH launched a Future of Work Initiative (NIOSH FOW). Its priority topics are organized into three broad groups, including:
- workplace (topics: organizational design, technological displacement, work arrangements),
- work (topics: artificial intelligence, robotics, technologies), and
- workforce (topics: demographics, economic security, skills).
The emphasis on economic security as one of the nine NIOSH FOW priority topics is crucial for at least two reasons. Economic security is a key determinant of well-being and the economic security of different worker groups may not be impacted equally by future of work changes. To support and elaborate on the importance of this priority topic, NIOSH recently hosted a webinar on The Role of Economic Security in the Future of Work. Presenters from NIOSH and the Aspen Institute, an educational and policy studies organization, shared their perspectives. Key points from the webinar presentations are summarized below.
The NIOSH presentation focused on economic security definitions and their association with worker well-being.
As discussed in a previous NIOSH Science blog, there is no standard definition of economic security. Often it is defined as having adequate income and assets, access to benefits such as paid leave and health insurance, and some control over job content and the opportunity to build a career. Another, more comprehensive definition by the International Labour Organization describes economic security as encompassing:
- income security (adequate current and future income),
- representation security (having both individual and collective bargaining rights),
- labor market security (adequate job opportunities),
- employment security (security against loss of income earning work),
- job security (control over job and career),
- work security (security against workplace hazards), and
- skill reproduction security (capacity development through training/education).
Such a far-reaching definition broadens the scope of economic security and establishes its ongoing importance as a priority topic in the NIOSH FOW.
Regardless of how we define economic security, it is a critical determinant of worker well-being. NIOSH-sponsored research highlights several ways economic security affects worker well-being, illustrating the Healthy Work Design’s holistic perspective. Some examples of NIOSH-sponsored research findings that highlight the importance of economic security for workers, their families, employers, and society overall were included in our previous blog. Additional examples include the associations of worker well-being with constructs that include economic security: work arrangements , work flexibility , and precarious work .
Economic security interacts with other NIOSH FOW priority topics. For example, technological advancements increase productivity, resulting in higher income and economic security, while the technological displacement of workers due to automation negatively affects the economic security of impacted workers. In addition, it is vital to understand if different worker groups, such as lower-income workers and workers in certain race and ethnic groups, may be disproportionately affected by changes in economic security. Therefore, to generate effective policies, it is imperative to understand these interactions and their effects on worker well-being.
The Aspen Institute’s presentation focused on how public and private benefits support worker economic security.
The Aspen Institute’s framework for financial security shows how critical the public and private benefits are for workers. Public benefits are government-delivered programs like social safety net programs (e.g., earned income tax credit-EITC) and social insurance programs (e.g., Medicare). On the other hand, private benefits are those provided to workers by their employers. Benefits like temporary assistance for needy families or EITC supplement income provide stability to the worker. Benefits like paid family medical leave and workers’ compensation protect the worker’s income in times of absence from work, primarily health-related. Private benefits like employer-sponsored health insurance and public benefits like childcare tax credits reduce living expenses. And benefits like that of employer-sponsored defined benefits plans help in building wealth.
A recently published benefits scorecard by the Aspen Institute provides a framework to assess 22 such benefits through the lens of financial security. Their analysis shows that these public and private benefits support economic security. When analyzing the benefits currently available to U.S. workers through the lens of financial security, the study finds that these existing benefits fail to be adequate, accessible, inclusive, and equitable for all types of workers. When looking at how benefits interact to support workers and their families holistically, the study finds undermining features like asset limits and benefit cliffs (a sudden decrease in benefits that can occur with a small increase in earnings) that destabilize workers. This signals the importance of providing such benefits to more workers.
Despite the considerable number of public benefit programs and the proliferation of workplace (private) benefits, not all workers have access to them. More than 5.2 million eligible unemployed Americans did not receive unemployment insurance benefits in 2020. Nearly 28 million workers did not have access to paid sick leave, and approximately 37 million workers in the U.S. did not have access to a workplace retirement savings plan in 2020. As a result, only higher-income, full-time employees receiving workplace benefits stand a reasonable chance of achieving financial security. The gaps in accessibility undermine the financial security of American workers and, in some cases, hinder our ability to close existing gender, racial, and wealth gaps.
As the work and workplace change, addressing the challenges and avenues towards ensuring an economically secure workforce is vital.
Do you know of any work design practices that have improved economic security? If so, please share them in the comment section below.
Tapas Ray, PhD, is an Economist in the NIOSH Economic Research and Support Office and Co-Assistant Coordinator of the Healthy Work Design and Well-Being Cross-Sector program.
Sarika Abbi, MPA, is Associate Director of Aspen Institute’s Financial Security Program.
 Tamers S, et al. . Envisioning the future of work to safeguard the safety, health, and well-being of the workforce: A perspective from the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.AJIM 63 (12): 1065-1084, https://doi.org/10.1002/ajim.23183
 Hacker JS. 2018. Chapter 8, Economic security. In Stiglitz, J, J Fitoussi and M Durand (eds.), For Good Measure: Advancing Research on Well-being Metrics Beyond GDP, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264307278-en.
 ILO . Definitions: What we mean when we say “economic security”. https://www.ilo.org/public/english/protection/ses/download/docs/definition.pdf
 Ray T, Kennisberg T , Pana-Cryan R . Employment arrangement, job stress, and health-related quality of life. Safety Science 100 (A): 46-56. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ssci.2017.05.003
 Ray T, Pana-Cryan R. Work flexibility and work-related well-being, Int J Environ Res Public Health, 2021 18(6):3254. https://doi: 10.3390/ijerph18063254
 Bhattacharya A, Ray T . Precarious work, job stress, and health-related quality of life. AJIM 64 (4): 310-319. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajim.23223
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Economic security and worker well-being are closely intertwined concepts. Economic security refers to the ability of individuals and families to meet their basic needs, such as food, shelter, and healthcare, and to withstand financial shocks such as job loss, illness, or economic downturns. Worker well-being, on the other hand, refers to the physical, mental, and emotional health of workers, as well as their job satisfaction and work-life balance.
When workers have economic security, they are better able to meet their basic needs and maintain their physical and mental health. They are also more likely to be productive and engaged in their work, as they are not distracted by financial worries. In turn, when workers have good job quality and well-being, they are more likely to stay in their jobs, be more productive, and contribute positively to their workplaces and communities.
Policies that promote economic security and worker well-being include minimum wage laws, paid sick leave and family leave, affordable healthcare, access to education and training, and protections against discrimination and harassment. Additionally, promoting work-life balance and mental health resources in the workplace can improve worker well-being and job satisfaction.
Overall, ensuring economic security and worker well-being is essential for promoting a healthy and productive workforce, as well as for reducing inequality and promoting social and economic mobility.
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