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Research Question

  1. How do working conditions vary in the U.S. population by age, gender, and education?

This report introduces the American Working Conditions Survey (AWCS), a survey of individuals designed to collect detailed information on a broad range of working conditions in the American workplace. The AWCS was fielded in 2015 on the RAND American Life Panel, a nationally representative (when weighted) sample of individuals residing in the United States who have agreed to participate in regular online surveys. This report presents detailed findings about the prevalence and distribution of working conditions across the American workforce by age, gender, and education.

The AWCS findings indicate that the American workplace is very physically and emotionally taxing, both for workers themselves and their families. Most Americans (two-thirds) frequently work at high speeds or under tight deadlines, and one in four perceives that they have too little time to do their job. More than one-half of Americans report exposure to unpleasant and potentially hazardous working conditions, and nearly one in five American workers are exposed to a hostile or threatening social environment at work. Positive findings include that workers appear to have a certain degree of autonomy, most feel confident about their skill set, and many receive social support on the job. Four out of five American workers report that their job met at least one definition of "meaningful" always or most of the time.

Key Findings

U.S. Working Conditions in 2015

  • The clear majority of Americans (eight out of ten) have steady and predictable work throughout the year, but many fewer work the same number of hours on a day-to-day basis (54 percent).
  • Nearly three-fourths of Americans report either intense or repetitive physical exertion on the job at least one-quarter of the time.
  • More than one-half of Americans report exposure to unpleasant and potentially hazardous working conditions.
  • Nearly one in five American workers are exposed to a hostile or threatening social environment at work.
  • Most Americans (two-thirds) frequently work at high speeds or under tight deadlines, and one in four perceives that they have too little time to do their job.
  • While a large proportion (62 percent) hold jobs whose tasks are typically monotonous, an overwhelming majority of American workers views "solving unforeseen problems" and "applying own ideas" as integral parts of their jobs (82 and 85 percent, respectively). Similar percentages say that their jobs involve complex tasks (70 percent) and learning new things (84 percent).
  • More than one-half (58 percent) of American workers describe their boss as supportive, and 56 percent say that they have very good friends at work.
  • Only 38 percent of workers state that their job offers good prospects for advancement.
  • Four out of five American workers report that their job met at least one definition of "meaningful" always or most of the time.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Data and Methods

  • Chapter Three

    Employment, Hours, Pay, and Benefits

  • Chapter Four

    Characteristics of Work

  • Chapter Five

    Preferences over Working Conditions

  • Chapter Six

    Summary and Extensions

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Social Security Administration, via the Michigan Retirement Research Center conducted by RAND Labor and Population.

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