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October 1999, Vol. 122, No. 10
Changing inequality in work injuries and work timing
Daniel S. Hamermesh
The most striking development in the
U.S. labor market over the last 20 years has
been the rapid rise in the inequality of earnings. Whether we measure hourly, weekly, or annual earnings—whether across individuals or across industries—or even whether we separate workers by education or experience level, we observe the same growing inequality of the immediate direct monetary returns to work.1 This is important, but the returns to most American workers’ efforts are far broader than what these direct measures encompass. They include employers’ contributions to pensions and to their employees’ health care, as well as less important payments, such as for educational expenses, workers’ compensation, and so on.2
There is yet a third category of benefits that workers receive from their jobs—the nonmoney characteristics of work that distinguish what we like to call "good jobs" from "bad jobs." These include the jobs’ dangers, their unpleasantness (dirtiness, repetitiousness, and so forth), and perhaps even the esteem in which they are held. While the monetary value of this kind of benefit from work is difficult to measure, the returns are real. Most important, in at least two cases—the incidence of evening and night work, and the burden of injuries on the job—we can measure how these returns are distributed and how their distribution has changed in the United States, and we can compare these changes to the distribution of earnings. The result is an expanded view of changing inequality in the U.S. labor market over the past 25 years. This broader approach is made possible because BLS has recently updated its information on the timing of work, and because consistent series on occupational injuries have now been available for nearly 20 years.
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1 This has been demonstrated by many authors, including Chinhui Juhn, Kevin M. Murphy, and Brooks Pierce, "Wage Inequality and the Rise in Returns to Skill," Journal of Political Economy, June 1993, pp. 410–42: and Sheldon Danziger and Peter Gottschalk, eds., Uneven Tides: Rising Inequality in America (New York, Russell Sage Foundation, 1993).
2 Changes in the distribution of health and pension payments are reported on by Brooks Pierce, "Compensation Inequality," BLS Working Paper (Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 1998).
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