How real is job insecurity?

Presidential candidates play to the perception of job insecurity, but new data analysis shows the US has ‘the most secure job market in the past 20 years.’

AP Photo
Job recruiters work their booths at a job fair in March in Pittsburg, Penn.

A common rallying cry in the American presidential campaign has been about “job insecurity.” Bernie Sanders blames it on trade deals. Hillary Clinton cites the “gig economy.” Donald Trump points to immigrants taking jobs.

To add to this perception of workers fearing for their jobs, a number of recent research reports have tried to measure how much this supposed insecurity worsens a person’s physical and mental health.

But just how bad is “job insecurity”?

According to new analysis of workplace data by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, “Job security has in fact steadily increased since the 1990s” in the United States.

In broad terms, the number of jobs lost each year, as a share of all jobs, has gone down. The number of jobs lost to firms downsizing or closing also has dropped.

In hard figures, the foundation calculates, “U.S. workers in 1995 had around a 7.3 percent chance that their jobs would be eliminated in any given quarter. Two decades later, that figure was down to 5.7 percent.”

This analysis corresponds to a survey this year in the United Kingdom, US, South Africa, and India by the skills development firm City & Guilds Group. The survey asked 8,000 employees if their jobs would exist in 10 years’ time. On average, 4 out 5 workers said yes.

“The findings appear to fly in the face of economic projections and media commentary about the future of the workforce,” concludes the survey researchers.

The foundation’s data-crunching also finds that the upward trend in greater job security is true across industries. Of 10 major sectors, all saw a lower rate of job loss in 2015 than in 1995. And as for the perception that part-time work by “gig” contractors is rising, the data indicates that self-employed workers, including independent contractors, are becoming a steadily smaller share of all non-farm workers.

“This idea that job insecurity is rising due to Internet-enabled changes to the economy is a case of selective thinking that ignores centuries of technological disruptions that have altered the nature of work time after time,” the foundation states.

Laid-off workers in the US may have difficulty in finding similar work that pays as well as their old jobs. But, the study concludes, the US now has “the most secure job market in the past 20 years.”

Can this information change the narrative in the 2016 presidential campaign about job insecurity as a permanent feature of the modern economy?  Yes, if political candidates choose to inspire rather than terrify voters. The good news is that workers themselves see their job security as better than many politicians do.

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