Characteristics of Low-Wage Workers and Their Labor Market Experiences: Evidence from the Mid- to Late 1990s. Number of Job and Employment Spells

04/30/2004

Consistent with the employment rate findings, low-wage workers during the mid- to late 1990s typically held many jobs (Table IV.1 and Figure IV.3). Male low-wage workers held an average of 3.0 jobs during the 42-month follow-up period, and the corresponding figure is 2.9 jobs for females. More than three-quarters of workers held more than one job, and nearly one-third experienced at least four jobs. Workers typically experienced fewer employment spells (2.0 spells on average), because some workers moved directly from one job to another (and thus, started a new job spell but continued their employment spell). These findings are consistent with findings from our duration analysis that low-wage job spells tend to be short and that nonemployment spells for those who leave low-wage jobs also tend to be short (see Chapter VI).

Table IV.1.
The Number Of New Job And Employment Spells During The Three And One-Half
Years After Job Start For Low-Wage Workers, By Wage Type And Gender
  Males Females All Workers
Average Number of New Job and Employment Spells
All Jobs 3.0 2.9 2.9
   Low-wage jobs(a) 2.3 2.4 2.3
   Medium-wage jobs(a) 0.6 0.4 0.5
   High-wage jobs(a) 0.1 0.0 0.1
Employment Spells of Any Wage Type(a) 1.9 1.8 1.8
Distribution of the Number of New Job and Employment Spells (Percentages)
Jobs
   1 24 23 24
   2 22 26 25
   3 21 21 21
   4 or more 33 29 31
Employment Spells
   1 48 49 49
   2 29 31 30
   3 or more 23 20 21
Sample Size 522 817 1,339
Source: 1996 SIPP longitudinal files using the entry cohort sample of workers who started jobs within six months after the start of the panel period. All workers were followed for 42 months after job start.
Note: All figures are weighted using the longitudinal panel weight.
a. These figures pertain to the number of times a new low-, medium-, or high-wage job started during the follow-up period. A spell was classified as "low-wage" on the basis of the wage at the start of the job. A low-wage job spell ended when the worker moved to another low-wage job, moved to a higher-wage job (either with the same or different employer), became unemployed, or left the labor force. A low-wage employment spell ended when the worker moved to a higher-wage job or became unemployed. Medium- and high-wage spells were defined analogously.

Figure IV.3.
Average Number Of Jobs And Employment Spells
Of Low-Wage Workers, By Gender
 
Figure Iv.3. Average Number Of Jobs And Employment Spells Of Low-Wage Workers, By Gender
Source: 1996 SIPP longitudinal files using workers who started low-wage jobs within six months after the start of the panel period
Note: All figures were calculated using the longitudinal panel weight and pertain to a 42-month follow-up period.

Sample members were much more likely to start low-wage jobs than higher-wage jobs (Table IV.1). On average, sample members started 2.3 low-wage jobs during the 42-month period, but only .5 medium-wage jobs and .1 high-wage jobs. Thus, nearly 80 percent of all new jobs were low-wage jobs.

Interestingly, medium- and high-wage workers in the mid- to late 1990s typically experienced a number of job spells similar to those of low-wage workers (Table C.2). For example, the average medium-wage worker held 2.6 jobs and the average high-wage worker held 2.3 jobs, compared to 3.0 jobs for the average low-wage worker. Thus, job turnover is common among all workers, not isolated to low-wage workers.

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