Weblog on the Internet and public policy, journalism, virtual community, and more from David Brake, a Canadian academic, consultant and journalist

Archive forDecember 29th, 2006 | back to home

29 December 2006
Filed under:Current Affairs (US) at11:06 am

A post I never got around to making from January…
The New Yorker: The Talk of the Town

The good news:

A recent study by Ann Huff Stevens, a labor economist at the University of California at Davis, compares the careers of older men in 1969 to those of older men in 2002, looking at how many years members of each group spent working at the job they held the longest. In 1969, the average was 21.9 years; in 2002, it was 21.4 years. In 1969, slightly more than half of the men had held one job for at least twenty years, and the proportion was almost identical in 2002. In the same vein, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that median job tenure among all workers over the age of twenty-five has fallen only slightly since the early eighties. And a 1999 study of fifty-one major corporations found that the percentage of employees with more than ten years of service increased in the nineties.

The bad news

The percentage of companies that offer health benefits to their employees has dropped thirteen per cent in the past five years, and even employees who are covered now generally pay more of their own costs. With pensions, the shift has been fundamental: defined-benefit plans, in which companies guarantee a set payout to employees, have been gradually replaced with defined-contribution plans


Meanwhile, the risk exposure of anyone unfortunate enough to lose a job has soared. People who are unemployed stay unemployed, on average, about fifty per cent longer now than they did in the seventies, and only about half as many receive unemployment insurance as did so in 1947. Furthermore, the explosion in health-care costs means that the consequences of forfeiting company health insurance are graver than ever. So even though incomes have risen over the past three decades, they fluctuate much more than they once did. Economists estimate that income volatility is about twice what it was in the early seventies.

Even after a burst of growth in the late nineties, the average household income is only slightly above where it was in 1973.