No Decline in Long Term Employment

According to Ann Huff Stevens there has been no decline in long term employment here in the United States. The popular story in the media and elsewhere is that the old notion that people will work for a single employer for the bulk of their career is now out dated and that workers now face more uncertainty when it comes to job security (link, link, link, link, link). However, in looking at the data, this notion of less job security and greater uncertainty just isn’t there.

Stevens research indicates that in the golden olden days of 1969 the average tenure of men in the job they held the longest was 21.9 years. In the bad, scary, uncertain days of 2002, that had declined to 21.4 years. Admittedly, the length the longest tenure with an employer did increase to 24 years during the 1970s and has, obviously, declined since then.

Stevens uses data from surveys of men aged 58-62 who were quizzed at the end of their working careers. She finds that in 1969 the average tenure for men in the job they held for the longest period during their careers was 21.9 years. In 2002, the comparable figure was 21.4 years, not much different. Just more than half of men ending their careers in 1969 had been with a single employer for at least 20 years; the same was true in 2002. Around a quarter of those men retiring, anytime in the 1969-2002 period, had stayed with a single employer for 30 or more years.

[snip]

Looking at the data in more detail, Stevens finds that educated men tend to have longer tenure than less-educated men, that is, men with less than a high school education. The average tenure in the job held longest for those with less than 12 years of completed education was about 21 years in 1969, and 18.6 years in 2002. Tenure for men with 12 or more years of education stood at 22.4 years in 1969 and 22.05 in 2002. Further, non-whites have an average tenure below the comparable measures for white men.

Stevens’ findings for the most recent years reflect the career outcomes for the generation of men approaching retirement age in 2002. Whether this level of stability will apply to subsequent generations of men depends on the continued evolution of job retention rates. Job retention rates declined in the 1990s, but it is not yet clear whether these declines will persist. Only with relatively long-lasting reductions in job retention rates will individuals experience corresponding reductions in completed tenure on their longest jobs.

In her paper, Stevens looks at whether job stability during the 1969-2002 period was affected by increased early retirement of men, a rise in average education levels, and the differing numbers of those taking years off from civilian work to serve in the military. But, she concludes that these factors do not bias her major finding, that job stability has remained relatively steady in that period.

In short, this idea that job security no longer exists or has been seriously eroded is highly dubious. It is possible that things will get steadily worse and that someday job security does indeed become a myth, but there is little evidence to support this view right now.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business
Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.

Comments

  1. Tano says:

    First impression strikes me as this being an example of selective statistic-choosing.

    A 62 year old in 1969 started in the workforce in the mid-1920s – i.e. their data will reflect their history through the Great Depression. Plus the post war boom.

    A 62 year old in 2002 started in the workforce in the late fifties (post-war boom) and through up till now.

    So what is the message here? That the loss of economic security in recent times has a similar effect on ones economic history as did the Great Depression?

  2. Anderson says:

    In the bad, scary, uncertain days of 2002, that had declined to 21.4 years.

    In a row?

  3. Steve Verdon says:

    In a row?

    Smart-ass.

    Tano,

    You have conflated job-security with economic-security. While undoubtedly related they may not be identical. Second, I don’t see that job security has declined since a change of .5 years is very tiny. If you are worried about that I have to wonder how you manage to get up in the mornign and actually venture outside.

  4. Tano says:

    No, it is job security I am addressing.

    The problem with the survey, and your recounting of it, is that you are seeking to claim that current security is similar to what it was in the “golden olden” days (and I think it clear that you are basically referring to the post war boom days). Yet the data presented for the “olden days” is based on job histories that extended through the Depression. So it is not an accurate assessment of the level of job security in the postwar years.

    A better measure would be those who entered the workforce during WWII, and reached 62 in the mid to late eighties. Those would be workers who experienced whatever job security that the “golden olden days” had to offer.

    And then contrast that with those who entered the workforce in the early eighties, and who reach 62 in a decade or so. Those will be people who experience the job security available in these modern times.

  5. Steve Verdon says:

    The problem with the survey, and your recounting of it, is that you are seeking to claim that current security is similar to what it was in the “golden olden” days (and I think it clear that you are basically referring to the post war boom days). Yet the data presented for the “olden days” is based on job histories that extended through the Depression. So it is not an accurate assessment of the level of job security in the postwar years.

    Uhhhmmm no.

    First off, I was referring to the tendency to view the past with rose-tinted glasses with the comment about the “golden olden” days. Your problem with reading into such phrases is your problem, not mine.

    Second, the work histories cover who started working in the late twenties all the way up to the late fifties. That covers part of the post war “boom”. That it doesn’t cover all of it is indeed true, but then again, the kind of data necessary to make statements about job tenure simply isn’t available, and as such statements about job security are in large part speculation.

    As for the issue of economic security you have changed to a different topic than my post deals with. As such, to try and infer conclusions about economic security based on my post about job security is not really all that honest.

    And then contrast that with those who entered the workforce in the early eighties, and who reach 62 in a decade or so. Those will be people who experience the job security available in these modern times.

    The problem with this is that it isn’t the narrative that we are seeing in regards to job security. The current narrative is that people who entered the workforce in the late fifites were being let go and that job security for these people was no longer true. This data contradicts that.

    The problem with regards to people entering the work force in the 80’s and later is covered in the last paragraph of my post. Job security might be lower, but right now we don’t have enough data to make that conclusion.

  6. Tano says:

    Sorry, but I am not tracking you here.

    Your claim is that job security for people who entered the workforce in the late fifties is not, contrary to the popular view, any worse than for people of a previous generation.

    And yes, you have a point there. Because the people of the previous generation had lousy to non-existent job security during the Depression, so their numbers are skewed downward for that part of their careers.

    But nobody would contest that finding. The popular meme that you seem to want to debunk is something else though. That the notion of working for a single employer is now dead.

    Nobody would be surprised to learn that people who lived through the Depression were unlikely to spend their entire career with one employer. No, the notion of single-employer careers was a post-war notion. And the popular meme is that it is no longer so.

    So to measure that, you need data for people whose careers coincided with the post-war years, not biased downward by the Depression. And contrast it with people whose careers coincide with some conception of “modern times”.

    Thats why the two time periods I laid out above are the relevant ones. Granted we dont have data for modern times. But the two time periods chosen in the study are irrelevant to the issue of whether the popular meme is valid or not.

    And what is with this “economic security” that you keep accusing me of distracting you with? I am, and have been, speaking of job security just as you have.

  7. Anderson says:

    In a row?

    Smart-ass.

    I was inspired by that great Steven Wright line, where he goes to the Open 24 Hours convenience store & finds the guy locking up for the night.

  8. Tano says:

    OK Steve,

    Just reread my own comments. You are right, I used “economic security” in that first post. Sorry, I meant job security.

  9. Steve Verdon says:

    And yes, you have a point there. Because the people of the previous generation had lousy to non-existent job security during the Depression, so their numbers are skewed downward for that part of their careers.

    Uhhmmm, you consider working for the same employer for over 20 years on average and in some cases over 30 years bad job security? If that is the case, then the problem is more fundamental. The data looks to me like job security was good for those who ended their careers in 1969 right up through 2002.

    Maybe this will no longer be the case, but the claim that job security is now dead is hard to make given that the data necessary for the conclusion is not yet at hand, and the date we do have shows little to no erosion in job security.

    And you really should read the links. People pushing the popular meme point to the firing/layoffs of people who fit into the demographics the data do cover.

  10. spencer says:

    s is not a vowel.

  11. Tano says:

    Steve,

    Imagine a worker in the first category. Starts working in mid 20s. Loses job with the Big Crash. Scrounges around trying to find work throughout the thirties. Maybe works a steady job in a factory during WWII. Then, in the postwar economy find job security and works till 1969. Time in longest job – 23 years.

    Worker in second category. Gets first job in post-war economy, late 50s. Holds job for 23 years till the great Reagan disaster. Then spends next few decades being laid off, trying to find jobs here and there etc. Time in longest job. 23 years.

    These scenarios explain the data presented, and are also completely consistent with the popular meme you wish to debunk.

    You are right that there is no data, of the type presented in this study, to make an appropriate comparison of postwar security with modern security. But there certainly is lots of other types of data to indicate that workers are less secure in their jobs now than they were in the past.

    The key point for today’s discussion though, is that Stevens has presented us with a study that does not show what she claims that it shows. She has chosen data, and time periods which are not relevant to the point she is trying to make.

    Three statements.

    1. Job security was lousy during the Depression, as people lost jobs, and had difficulty keeping jobs that they did find.

    2. Job security was great in the postwar years as people took up jobs that offered near-lifetime security.

    3. Job security today sucks, as people rarely can expect to hold jobs throughout their careers.

    The popular meme you wish to debunk relates to statements 2 and 3. The categories defined by Stevens bridge the times covered by statement 1 and 2 (for her earlier category) and statements 2 and 3 (for her later category).

    The appropriate categories would isolate 2 and compare it to 3.

    Since category 2 time period is common to both her categories, they can cancel eachother. Given that her overall result was similar, that means time period 1 and 3 contributed similarly. Todays’s job security is as bad as in the Depression.

    I am not asserting that that is the case. But that is a logical deduction from these data. I would be content to simply say that it is a badly chosen data set.

  12. Michael says:

    Steve,
    I think the point that Tano is trying to make is that for both the 1969 study, and the 2002 study, the 21-22 year averages may correspond to roughly the same time frame, 1940-1990. Someone in 1969 and someone in 2002 could have both held a 20+ year job during that time-frame, giving exactly the results this study found.

    I would be interested to see the average age of the respondents when they started that longest term of employment, whether it was early or late in their careers, that would be a more accurate number to gauge current job security. If the average age is higher for the 1969 respondents than for the 2002 respondents, that means job security is on the decline, if it is lower it means job security is on the rise.

  13. Lorraine says:

    I can see that the Depression/Post-War pattern worked for my grandfather, who retired from the same company he’d worked for for many years. However, I haven’t seen that pattern with my father or with myself, my siblings, or my son.

    My father learned programming in the Army in the early 60s. He was employed by the same employer until the late 70s when the company chose to move to CA. He then worked for two different companies in the following decade, then ended his career in 2002 when he was forced to retire 2 years early because his job was moved to India.

    My own job history has a similar pattern. After a variety of 1-2 year jobs throughout high school and college, I worked for the state government for almost 10 years (until 1997). Government is one place where people are employed with the same employer for 30-40 years. My co-workers were evidence of that. I then entered the IT industry. My first job for a consulting company lasted 9 months until I was hired by the client. I was there for 2 years, the next one for 6 months, then 2.5 years, then laid off and unemployed for 5 months, then a 10 month contract, followed by 18 months of unemployment, then 1 year, and I’ve been with my current company for almost 1 year. I certainly don’t expect to be with this company until I retire in 20 years or so. My 3 sisters also work in IT and have similar work histories.

    My son is 20 years old and has already had 3 jobs, all different industries. The first two were part-time, sometimes full-time during school. He’s been at the most recent one for a year.

    As for education, my grandfather graduated from high school, my father only had a year of college, and I had a lot of years of college with no degree (long story). My sisters all have college degrees with one having a master’s.

    I think the study should have compared 3 groups: my grandfather’s generation (1920s to 1980s), my father’s generation (1960s to 2000s), and my generation (1970s to present). Add in when those long employment periods took place and I think THAT study would prove the “popular story”.

  14. Ray says:

    I noticed that the surveys all used data from older men at the end of their careers. How does this equate with the younger workers, some of which, like me, switched jobs frequently during their younger years? (I had several temp jobs over the years until I gained employment at my current employer which I have held for the last ten years.)

    Also, how does it reflect the changing employment environment that seems to be moving towards more mobility between jobs for workers? Do these surveys actually reflect the current, and more importantly future, employment conditions in America?

    It seems to me that we are trapped in the mentality that job security means that you will work for the same employer for 20 or more years and not the fact that you may change jobs with little or no loss of economical security. I don’t believe that this reflects the employment conditions that exists in America today and in the future.