Worse Than Unemployment? A Bad Job

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With joblessness stuck at 9 percent and families drowning in debt, it feels wrong to give traction to the idea that the jobless are in any way more fortunate that the employed. But a new study finds that jobs with high demands and low security are worse for mental health than unemployment.

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According to the Australian National University, people hired in "thankless, unstable positions" faced more mental distress that those who never got hired at all, Slate writes.

So, here's a reasonable if difficult follow-up question: Are the fastest growing jobs in the sectors that correlate highest with mental health? Well, here are the fastest growing job sectors, from research by Daniel Indivilgio.




And here is the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which ranks the overall well-being of occupation groups. At the bottom are manufacturing, transportation and service. Dan's list included: four manufacturing sectors, three service sectors (including low-skilled health care jobs, the overall leader in employment creation in the next decade) and the transportation industry.
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The silly conclusion to draw from this is that the U.S. economy is producing a lot of jobs that will make people sad. Another specious conclusion to draw from this is that the U.S. government should pay rapturous attention to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index and subsidize jobs in farming and and forestry, because those folks seem to be pretty happy.

Instead, the lesson I take away from this is that some of the fastest growing jobs tend to be among lower-middle skill workers making under $60,000, an income level tends to correlate with less happiness and well-being than the upper middle class. Indeed, the Wall Street Journal reports that about 40% of the new jobs New York will add in the coming years will be for lower-middle-skilled workers like licensed practical nurses and heavy-truck driver jobs. These positions often require a degree from community colleges, where the drop out rate hovers around 50 percent. So the challenge of the next decade is matching technical skills of a population that lacks post-secondary experience with a jobs market that demands post-secondary knowledge.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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