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05 September 2000

Labor Market Strong, But Workers in Poor Health Still Suffer

California's labor market remains strong, according to UCSF researchers. Results of the 2000 California Work and Health Survey (CWHS) indicate high employment rates among all working-age Californians, long hours of work and large numbers of workers who report promotions, new and better jobs and increased earnings.

However, despite the strength of the labor market, job loss, short job tenures and poverty-level incomes remain common among some of California's workers, especially among people with physical or mental health problems, said Ed Yelin, PhD, professor at the UCSF Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies and the principal investigator of the 2000 California Work and Health Survey.

The survey, led by Yelin and co-principal investigator, Laura Trupin, MPH, senior research associate in the UCSF Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies, examines the health impacts of changes in the economy and how well people with health problems do economically.

Health plays a central role in determining who succeeds in the labor market, according to Yelin. People who report fair or poor health are more than twice as likely as those in excellent, very good or good health to be unemployed. Among the employed, those in poor health are much less likely to report a promotion or a new, better job in the past year, he said.

People who report fair or poor health are more likely to have jobs with high demands and low autonomy and work in environments with high levels of crime or noise, Yelin added. In addition, they are more likely to earn poverty-level wages and to lack pension plans or health insurance. Among people employed in 1999, those in fair or poor health were more than twice as likely as those in better health to lose their jobs by the time they were re-interviewed in 2000, even after taking into account age, gender and race, explained Yelin.

The researchers reported that people with symptoms associated with depression have low rates of employment and, among those who are employed, poorer working conditions and lower earnings. Job loss can also lead to symptoms of depression. Among people who did not show symptoms of depression in 1999, those who lost their jobs between 1999 and 2000 were more than twice as likely to develop symptoms by 2000 than those who did not lose jobs, he explained.

The survey also found that even with California's high rate of employment, the longest expansion since World War II has not depleted the supply of workers available to be hired by the state's employers. About 1.6 million Californians (1.1 million age 25 or older) are available to work, many of them with the skills, education and experience necessary to succeed in the workplace. "These findings call into question the notion that there are no workers available with the requisite skills and experience. In part, it's up to the employers to provide incentives," Yelin said.

Additional findings:

  • Among Californians age 18-64, 70 percent are working.
  • Almost 10 percent of those employed work 55 hours a week or more, and 12 percent of Californians report holding more than one job. Two-thirds of California's households with two or more adults report more than one wage earner.
  • More than one-third of Californians indicate that they received a promotion or a new, better job in the past year; 56 percent report an increase in earnings compared to a year ago.
  • Although about a fifth of people available to take jobs have less than a high school education, almost half have at least some college. About a fifth have at least a bachelor's degree, and just under a tenth have some postgraduate training.
  • People available to work have an average of over 15 years of labor market experience, and 95 percent have at least one year of experience.
  • The researchers report that one in six Californians who have worked in the past three years report having lost a job during this time, and about one in thirteen report having lost one in the past year alone.
  • No groups were immune from job loss (13 percent of those with at least a bachelor's degree lost a job in the past three years), although workers with less than a high school degree were especially prone to job loss (26 percent lost a job during this time).
  • Just under 10 percent of the state's workers (about 1.4 million) are in families that have household incomes less than 125 percent of the federal poverty level, despite their employment. Surprisingly, almost half of these workers are men. Almost two-thirds are in their prime earning years of 25-54, and more than a third have at least some college education.

The 2000 California Work and Health Survey (CWHS) is the third year of a longitudinal study of the California adult population. The survey was funded by a grant from The California Wellness Foundation (TCWF) through its Work and Health Initiative. The California Wellness Foundation is an independent, private foundation established in 1992. Its mission is to improve the health of the people of California by providing grants for health promotion, wellness education and disease prevention.

The survey was administered by the Field Institute, a nonprofit public policy organization in San Francisco. Interviews were conducted by telephone in English and Spanish among a random sample of 2,168 California adults, including 1, 265 persons who were previously interviewed in 1999.


California Work and Health Survey (CWHS)

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