Employment and Jobs

The Future of Work: What Does It Mean To Have a Good Job?

September 1, 2023  • Future of Work Initiative Team

Good jobs are essential to a healthy economy, successful businesses, strong communities, thriving families, and a well-functioning democracy. Yet, according to recent research, only 44 percent of working people in the U.S. report having a “good job” and more than 30 percent of the workforce — disproportionately women, people of color, and immigrants — struggle with low wages. Others lack adequate benefits, face discrimination, and experience other challenges that can make it feel impossible to thrive as a worker in the United States.

Shelly Steward, director of the Future of Work Initiative at the Aspen Institute’s Economic Opportunities Program, recently sat down with Taylor Nicole Rogers, U.S. labor and equality correspondent for the Financial Times to discuss the need to reimagine our labor protections and benefits to ensure we build a future where workers are treated fairly. Here’s what they had to say:

The path to a healthy and happy workforce is paved with good supports.

Our system of labor protections and benefits has been built on exclusions, such as race, gender, and sexual orientation. To create a more equitable future of work, Steward argues that we need to move towards truly universal protections and benefits that are designed to include everyone, including things like good paid leave policies, universal healthcare, and equal access to these benefits for gig workers and others outside of the traditional 9 – 5 fulltime structures.

Artificial intelligence has the potential to impact workers in a variety of ways, both positive and negative.

AI can automate tasks and make work more efficient — but because it learns based on past information, it also can be used to reproduce existing inequalities in the workplace. Steward emphasizes the importance of being aware of these potential risks and taking steps to mitigate them by ensuring that workers have a voice in how it is implemented in the workplace.

What is a “good job,” anyway?

Recent research by the Aspen Institute’s Economic Opportunities Program, in partnership with the Families and Workers Fund, has identified the three pillars of a job being “good”:

  1. Economic stability. A job should pay a fair, living wage and provide basic benefits.
  2. Economic mobility. Everyone should have the opportunity to advance their career and build wealth.
  3. Equality, dignity, and respect. Workers are happier when they have a feeling of belonging and a seat at the table for decisions that affect them through structures like labor unions, co-ops, and representation in boardrooms.

These ideas may seem counter to a business’s bottom line, but there is a clear case for how stronger protections and benefits benefit both workers and businesses.

When workers come to work and do their job and feel as though they have a say, they do better work, and they stay doing that work longer. And we know how expensive it is to hire new folks when people move on, when people depart. And so when people enter a job, have a voice, and have a pathway, they’re going to stay there. They’re going to keep contributing. They’re going to add to the productivity of that firm. And in the end, everybody wins. The business succeeds, the worker thrives, and the community around them is a good place to live.”

What work looks like in the future will depend on the actions we take now. For everyone to have a fair shot at success tomorrow, we need to invest in the systems that will make it possible today.

Watch the full conversation below.