Employment and Jobs

Why Job Quality?

November 16, 2021  • Economic Opportunities Program

Job quality is essential to realizing the ideals of the American Dream, but today the US faces a job quality crisis: too many jobs are not quality jobs. Low-quality jobs harm a large and growing portion of the US workforce, and our economy, society, and aspirations as a country.

The Economic Opportunities Program draws on decades of engagement with organizations across the country that strive to connect people to opportunity. The desire to earn a living is a constant. We’ve interviewed a range of workers, job seekers, and aspiring entrepreneurs. Regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender, from rural, urban, and suburban locales, young adults starting out and displaced workers seeking to build a new career, they are looking to earn a living. High quality jobs, whether working for someone else or for yourself, make a meaningful difference in a person’s life.

In 2017, the Aspen Institute Job Quality Fellows described the importance of job quality as follows:

“A quality job means one’s work is valued and respected and meaningfully contributes to the goals of the organization. It encompasses having a voice in one’s workplace and the opportunity to shape one’s work life, as well as having accessible opportunities to learn and grow. Quality work affords an individual the opportunity to save, to build the security and confidence that allows one to plan for the future, and to participate in the life of and see oneself as a valued member of a community.”

Too many working people have poor quality jobs. The Brookings Institution reports that 44% of workers, more than 53 million people, earn low hourly wages. Researchers at Gallup find that only 40% of Americans believe that they have a good job.

Low quality jobs are unhealthy for individuals and society. People in low-quality jobs endure financial stress, ill health, and social stigma. Low-quality jobs exacerbate social and economic inequities across race, ethnicity, and gender. Women, workers of color, and immigrants are disproportionately employed in low quality jobs.

Low quality jobs can hinder economic growth and strain public budgets. Low quality jobs may be designed to minimize labor cost for an individual business and accommodate high turnover. Such jobs limit the purchasing power of a large segment of consumers, reducing the strength of the economy as a whole. They also strain public resources as a growing segment of workers relies on a variety of means-tested benefits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, food stamps, and subsidized school meals, just to get by. In contrast, good quality jobs invest in human capability, boost productivity, and provide workers with the resources to express their wants in the market in the form of consumer demand without having to rely on means-tested benefits.

The ideal of America as the Land of Opportunity is undermined by the reality of millions who work hard, play by the rules, but can barely get by — never mind get ahead. It doesn’t have to stay this way. The time for improving job quality is now. For too long too much went to “fixing workers.” Now is the time to “fix work.” Job quality is shaped by human decisions — by policy and business choices, by social norms and social programs, by what we do individually and what we do in association with others.

In response to the job quality crisis, we have launched the Job Quality Center of Excellence. This new platform aims to drive improved job quality and economic dignity for workers through deep stakeholder engagement, idea generation, and resource sharing to help equip leaders across sectors and at all levels to act.

What you’ll find on this platform:

  • Examples and exemplars: Profiles of individuals and organizations who are innovating to improve job quality.
  • Practical tools: Resources and guides geared to a variety of contexts to improve the quality of jobs.
  • Inclusive conversations: Public and private dialogue engaging diverse perspectives, experiences, and expertise to understand issues, explore ideas, and encourage action.
  • Research and resources: Publications exploring promising policy ideas, evaluations of innovative programmatic practices, information about job quality concepts, metrics, and trends, and more.

The Center draws on our work as well as the efforts of many others. We don’t have all the answers in the Center, but we are sharing ideas and innovations. To improve job quality, we need to shift thinking as well as behavior. We need to do things differently, and we must think differently and ask new questions. Please turn to the Center for information and ideas and as a forum for sharing fresh approaches. If you have tools, resources, or ideas to share, we’d love to hear from you! Please contact us at [email protected].

To add your voice to the conversation on the urgency of improving job quality, we encourage you join our social media campaign here.


Job quality is essential to realizing the ideals of the American Dream, but the US faces a #jobquality crisis: too many jobs are not quality jobs. Low-quality jobs harm workers, our economy, our society, and our aspirations as a country.

The ideal of America as the Land of Opportunity is undermined by the reality of millions who work hard and play by the rules—but can barely get by. It doesn’t have to be this way. The time for improving #jobquality is now.

Too much has gone into “fixing workers.” Now is the time to “fix work.” #Jobquality is shaped by human decisions — by policy and business choices, by social norms and programs, by what we do individually and in association with others.

In response to the #jobquality crisis, @AspenWorkforce launched the Job Quality Center of Excellence (as.pn/jobqualitycenter), which aims to improve economic dignity for workers through stakeholder engagement, idea generation, and resource sharing.


Learn More

The Economic Opportunities Program advances strategies, policies, and ideas to help low- and moderate-income people thrive in a changing economy. Follow us on social media and join our mailing list to stay up-to-date on publications, blog posts, events, and other announcements.