Job quality indicators are important because policy makers increasingly recognize that many places need better jobs, not more jobs. In our work we see economic development leaders responding to this reality and striving to assess their efforts to help create more quality jobs. Here are some job quality indicator ideas that I think are especially intriguing or promising.

As described in our recent article on the new CREC report, Redefining Economic Development Performance Indicators, job quality indicators tend to fall into the following categories:

  • Wage related
  • Benefits based
  • Oriented around skills development and career pathways
  • Demographically or geographically targeted

 The set below describes one concept from each category.

Living wage versus average wage

Living wage estimates take into account the cost of living in a community or region, not just pay levels. This is a useful concept that can help assess whether a job would be considered “good” (or not) based on its ability to support an individual or family in a specific location.

In some places, the average wage is notably lower than the living wage. In other places with thriving economies, the community’s average wage may exceed the living wage by a substantial margin. In both cases, understanding the living wage can provide additional insight into the local economy and what constitutes a “good” job for economic development efforts.

Learn more and see what a living wage is in your community from the MIT Living Wage Calculator website.

Work flexibility/transportation benefits

The CREC report mentions job-sharing, alternative work schedules and addressing barriers to work associated with childcare, housing, transportation and similar issues as meaningful workplace flexibility issues for workers. Flexibility can affect the perception of job quality from a worker’s perspective and, in some cases, benefits such as transportation assistance can enable workers to overcome barriers “that typically prevent employees from getting to work and functioning productively.”

Connection to workforce development programs

Jobs that provide clearly articulated career pathways, the potential for advancement, or skills training are increasingly valued. Workforce has been the number one issue for businesses for years now, and economic development organizations have responded by increasing collaboration with educators and workforce groups in their communities, as well as creating their own programs to connect residents with employers.

From a quality perspective, jobs that incorporate participation in the education, training and credentialing programs in a community suggest a greater commitment to skills development and, in some cases, career pathways. To assess jobs on this factor, economic development groups may track the number of enrollees and completions in industry-specific training programs; individual placements and earnings after completing a credential or training program; the total number of credentials achieved for targeted occupations; or the number of employees at assisted businesses receiving skills training.

Jobs for residents of distressed communities

As the paper notes, “Economic development organizations are questioning whether economic benefits – however measured – accrue throughout their communities or are concentrated within small segments of the population or neighborhoods.” Indicators that look at outcomes by demographic or socioeconomic category and geography (such as downtowns compared to neighborhoods, rural areas compared to urban areas, distressed communities compared to all others) are in demand. Indicators might include the number of jobs filled by residents in distressed communities; wages and salaries by location; or employment by industry by location.

As one example, a report* commissioned by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for Grand Rapids, MI, examined in detail the characteristics of residents and jobs by neighborhood. Doing so revealed that, “Many neighborhood residents are unable to take advantage of the employment opportunities in their own neighborhood,” but limited transportation options also hindered the ability to access jobs in other areas in and around the city. The same report examined employment patterns by industry sector and found notable disparities in hiring patterns by race. The research highlighted critical economic development challenges that the city is now striving to address. Monitoring these factors over time enables locations to track progress in meeting the economic development expectations of all of its citizens.


*Addressing Economic Inclusion in Grand Rapids, George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis and Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness. July 2016.