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Once upon a time, factory work was a reliable path to a better life.

Shift change
As our economy evolves, so does the hunt for a 'good' job

 
 
 

79彩票注册网址Le Chrisha Pearson works in one of the country's most booming industries—health care.

It doesn't mean she has a good job.

79彩票注册网址Pearson, 34, is a certified nursing assistant at Mount Sinai Hospital, checking patients' vital signs and helping them move and bathe. The shifts are busy. Sinai cut the number of nursing assistants per floor from three to two during the eight years Pearson has worked there, raising the average number of patients per assistant from eight to 12. There can be aggression, too: Pearson has been kicked and spat on, and had a lunch tray thrown at her.

79彩票注册网址Caring for patients is ultimately rewarding, she says, but until recently, her paycheck wasn't.

She earned $13.53 an hour working roughly 24 hours a week at Sinai and held a second part-time job to make ends meet for her and her 14-year-old son. Only after tense contract negotiations79彩票注册网址 between Sinai and her union, SEIU Healthcare Illinois, did she earn a pay raise to $17.43 an hour, the equivalent of $21,752 a year.

"We put up a hard fight," says Pearson, one of the union's campaign leaders. "It took a long time to get here, but it was worth it."

How do we create and provide good jobs? How do we make work better? What even counts as a good job, and who has access to one?

While the 21st-century economy takes shape, these are the questions confronting researchers, politicians, executives, worker advocates and economic planners as the city—like the country—continues its shift toward a polarized job market where a four-year college degree increasingly separates workers who can expect to earn enough to live on and those who can't.


How safe is your job?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected which occupations would shrink the most across the country between 2018 and 2028, and which would grow the fastest. Click through the boxes below to see the government's prediction for your job, your relative's job or your neighbor's.

Occupations with projected losses, 2018 vs. 2028


79彩票注册网址Occupations with projected growth, 2018 vs. 2028

79彩票注册网址Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics


Metro Chicago's economy had a long road back from the Great 79彩票注册网址, with the overall number of jobs only surpassing a 2000 peak in 2015. The city was hit hard by the shrinking of manufacturing jobs, which usually paid more than the national median, even for workers lacking a bachelor's degree. And the decline has only partly been offset by a rise in skilled-services jobs in industries like health care.

Chicago has fewer working-class jobs than it did a couple of decades ago.

"They were jobs at a living wage," says Robert Bruno, director of the labor studies program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "They were jobs at which you could aspire to something better for your children, and you felt like you had some long-term security in those positions. And I do think it's gotten terribly harder to achieve that in Chicago's economic environment and across the country, if you're not among a small percentage of people who have advanced degrees."

The causes range from globalization to technological advancement to the rise of temporary labor and the decline of unions in the private sector. It has led to clashes between labor and business over the causes of the country's income inequality, the right minimum wage and whether "gig" workers should count as employees or contractors.

The job market is undoubtedly transitioning. Some argue that the workforce will adapt to technology and newly available opportunities, as it's done in the past. Workers have benefited from recent low unemployment and wages that have been rising, particularly at the bottom. The minimum wage in Illinois will rise to $9.25 an hour on Jan. 1 and will continue rising until it hits $15 in 2025.

Others worry about a developing chasm: well-compensated, fulfilling jobs for the well educated; poorly paid, unstable jobs for the majority of workers who lack a bachelor's degree.

Despite recent gains, labor's share of more than a decade of economic growth remains small, says Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton.

"It's improved, and we've regained the ground that we lost (in recent decades), but we've got a ways to go," she says.


The local jobs landscape

Manufacturing jobs have decreased significantly in Cook County over the last two decades, while jobs in health care and other industries have grown.

79彩票注册网址Cook County manufacturing employment


79彩票注册网址Change in Cook County jobs, 2018 vs. 1999

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics


What's clear is the quality of the jobs here, how much they pay and the security and satisfaction they confer are key not only to workers' personal fulfillment but broad-based prosperity. It is a crucial element in the overall health and wealth of the city, especially one that is losing population as people seek better opportunities elsewhere.

Twenty years ago, about 355,000 workers in Cook County were employed in manufacturing, an industry that many automatically associated with the idea of a "good job." Today, that number has fallen 48 percent to 184,000. The big sectors adding jobs include health care and social services, accommodation and food service, transportation and warehousing, and professional and technical services. Those four sectors together have added more than 188,000 jobs in Cook County since 1999, with health care alone adding nearly 98,000.

"Everybody from the Fed bank on down" is trying to determine if the jobs created by these growing industries will offer workers the compensation they need, says George Putnam, assistant director of economic information and analysis security at the Illinois Department of Employment Security. "The answer," he says, "is uncertain."

Twenty years ago, Alfred White, 57, worked at a manufacturing company that made VHS tapes. The company employed him directly, and he earned about $12 an hour (the equivalent of about $39,000 a year in today's dollars) with benefits. Now he drives a forklift, employed by a temp agency that a major retailer hired to staff its warehouse. He has no health insurance and still earns about $12 an hour, or not quite $25,000 a year if he worked 40 hours a week.

"I like the kind of work I do now, but it's frustrating because I don't have benefits and I don't get raises," he says. "Everyone sees you're working hard, and yet you don't have the opportunity to get hired on with the company."

DEFINING A 'GOOD' JOB

In the last few years, researchers have struggled to define what constitutes a "good" job, and who holds one.

Some rely mostly on data about income, since it's quantitative and more readily available. An important aspect of a good job is that it pays higher wages compared to other jobs available to a worker with a given level of education, training and experience.

79彩票注册网址 by Georgetown University found there are 30 million workers in the United States who hold a good job without a bachelor's degree, out of 123 million workers in the economy. The authors defined such a job as one that pays $35,000 a year for full-time work for someone under 45 and $45,000 for those 45 and older. Workers who hold these jobs earn a median of $58,000.

The share of good jobs for workers without a bachelor's degree declined from 60 percent in 1991 to 45 percent in 2015.

79彩票注册网址Illinois lost more than 10 percent of these jobs between 1991 and 2015, making it one of the hardest hit states in the country, along with other states in the Midwest and Northeast, according to the study.


How good is your job?

Gallup polled 6,600 U.S. workers about their job satisfaction in 2019. Only 40 percent overall said they had a good job, while 16 percent said their jobs were bad. The results varied by income level and race/ethnicity.

79彩票注册网址Percentage of workers describing their jobs as good, mediocre and bad, based on income level


Percentage of workers describing their jobs as good or bad, based on race/ethnicity

79彩票注册网址Source: Gallup


Accommodation and food services is one of the sectors that has grown while manufacturing jobs have declined, largely because of a tourism boom. There were more than 242,000 working in the sector in 2018 in Cook County, compared to 176,000 two decades earlier—a nearly 38 percent increase.

79彩票注册网址The employment numbers encompass everyone from the Hyatt Regency's general manager to the worker making a burrito at Chipotle, and the average annual pay is just over $26,000. By contrast, the average annual pay in manufacturing was $42,000 two decades ago.

As a pastry cook, Robert Hudson makes roughly $22 an hour—about $46,000 a year. Hudson, 29, helps supply the restaurant, coffee shop, food hall and banquets at the Marriott Marquis. He does what he loves full time and has health insurance and a pension.

Many in the sector can't say the same, including friends from his culinary school graduating class. One of them left the industry, and another holds multiple restaurant jobs to support himself.

79彩票注册网址"There's a fine line between understanding this is my passion … but OK, I also have to be able to survive," Hudson says. "Nobody wants to have three jobs because the one isn't enough."

NOT JUST PAY

79彩票注册网址There's more to a good job than good pay, and researchers have been examining other factors that contribute to job quality.

This year about their job satisfaction in 10 categories, including benefits, job security, predictability of hours, career advancement opportunities and a sense of purpose and dignity at work.

The polling firm found that only 40 percent reported they were in good jobs. The remainder classified their jobs as mediocre or bad. Those unsatisfied with their jobs didn't just earn less, they had less of everything: job security, control over hours and enjoyment of work.

79彩票注册网址Notably, people who earned less also were less hopeful of climbing the ladder. Gallup found that "workers in the top 10 percent of the pay spectrum are almost twice as likely as those in the bottom 20 percent to say they are satisfied with their career advancement opportunities."

Security, a key component of a good job, can prove elusive, particularly for low-income workers. Only 61 percent told Gallup they were satisfied with their job security, compared to 83 percent of workers in the top 10 percent of earners.

Getty Images

79彩票注册网址Health care and social services jobs grew by nearly 38 percent in Cook County over the last two decades.

Part of the erosion of job security stems from the now-common practice of companies hiring staffing agencies to supply workers, rather than employing them directly. allows companies to save money, but labor advocates say the practice depresses wages and diminishes advancement opportunities.

Laseant Sardin, 60, thought his job was secure until he lost it. He worked full time in a warehouse in Will County operated by Schneider National, on behalf of Walmart.

79彩票注册网址Sardin worked in shipping and receiving, loading and unloading trucks full of goods like air conditioners and microwaves. His problems arose when the huge Bentonville, Ark., retailer took control of operations from Schneider at the nearly 600-worker warehouse. At first he was enthusiastic, because Walmart promised a pay raise to more than $18 per hour from the $15.50 he was making.

But he had to reapply for his job, including a background check, and he wasn't rehired. Sardin says he still isn't sure why he wasn't rehired for the same job he'd already been doing, but he suspects it was related to an issue from three decades ago. Walmart told him he could return to work as a temp. He refused.

"If I can't work for you (as an employee), why can I work for you as a temp?" Sardin asks. "I'm not going to go for it."

79彩票注册网址Sardin now works at a printing company, as a temp, but hopes to be hired full time.

"Hundreds" of Schneider employees were rehired when the retailer took over the Elwood warehouse, but all had to undergo a background check, Walmart spokeswoman Michelle Malashock says in an email.

79彩票注册网址"We understand the importance of providing second chances, and our background checks include a thoughtful and transparent review process to help ensure everyone is treated fairly," she writes.

Transportation and warehousing79彩票注册网址 employs 131,000 in Cook County and 24,000 in Will County. Over the last two decades, the number of workers has increased 5 percent and a remarkable 388 percent in those places, respectively. Laborers and material movers in metro Chicago earned median pay of $26,000 in 2018.

INVESTING IN WORKERS

79彩票注册网址Companies can improve jobs, and some are actively trying to do that.

Zeynep Ton, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, authored "The Good Jobs Strategy" in 2014 to argue that if companies treat their workers better, they will be able to operate more profitably. She advises companies to redesign job descriptions to give employees more responsibility, making them more productive and justifying higher pay. Higher pay and benefits result in reduced turnover, lowering costs and eventually improving sales, too.

 
 
 

79彩票注册网址Ton cites Spanish grocery store chain Mercadona, Pacific Northwest pet retailer Mud Bay, convenience store QuikTrip and warehouse retailer Costco as companies that have pulled it off.

79彩票注册网址"QuikTrip and Costco design their operations to respect and leverage employees' time, knowledge, and capabilities and to give them more meaning and satisfaction in their work," she wrote this year "Yes, it's a big investment of money and effort in the front-line labor force, but with an even bigger return in productivity, customer loyalty, and adaptability."

Cristina Ochoa, 42, is an example. She invested in her company, and her company invested in her.

She started in the mailroom 21 years ago at Chicago-based S&C Electric, which manufactures equipment for electric power systems, and now works as a senior production planner. She ensures the company's assembly lines have enough parts to make and ship products, without letting inventory stack up. Though she doesn't have a degree beyond a high school diploma, she now earns $65,000 a year, plus health benefits, and has a boss who OKs flexibility.

She's done well at the company, she says, because "I was constantly asking for more. I loved the challenge."

79彩票注册网址DIFFERENCE OF DEGREES

The Federal Reserve banks of Cleveland and Philadelphia are working to identify jobs that are open to workers who lack a bachelor's degree but still pay more than the national annual median wage of just under $38,000.

79彩票注册网址These "opportunity occupations" account for only 19.3 percent of the jobs available in metro Chicago, compared to 21.6 percent of the total employment for the 121 metro areas researchers analyzed. The top three opportunity occupations in Chicago are listed as registered nurses, heavy truck drivers, and maintenance and repair workers.

Chicago's lower percentage of these higher-quality jobs is due to several factors, says Kyle Fee, a senior policy analyst at the Cleveland Federal Reserve and one of the authors of The job mix in Chicago is tilted toward "knowledge-based career jobs," employers are more likely to require a bachelor's degree and the cost of living is high.

Given that, the surest route to improving earning potential remains additional education and training after high school. Gallup found that just 14 percent of workers who completed high school and earned a professional certification said they were in a bad job. By contrast, 19 percent of those who earned only a high school diploma said they were in bad jobs.

79彩票注册网址A degree or certification can open the door to a better job, but it isn't always easy.

Terrence Wilson, 27, is a tool-and-die maker at Dudek & Bock Spring Manufacturing. Though he attended a program for high school students run by Chicago-based nonprofit Manufacturing Renaissance, after high school he took a job as an assistant manager at a Family Dollar store.

79彩票注册网址The birth of his son and a friend's encouragement led him back to manufacturing. Dudek hired him as a machine operator, but the company paid for him to take a course on tool-and-die making. He commuted twice a week from Austin to Schaumburg for three years for the three-hour class, while continuing to work full time.

He graduated in May. His parents cried. So did he. And his work now ticks most of the boxes of what constitutes that good job.

79彩票注册网址Five years ago, Wilson was making $10 an hour. Now he's making $22 an hour, with health insurance and a 401(k). Dudek makes hinges for Whirlpool and auto parts for Toyota. Wilson enjoys seeing his products out in the world, and the challenge of creating them.

79彩票注册网址"When I see things I think, 'I probably made that part,' " he says. "At first it was just a job. Now it's a career to me."

 
 
 

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