How does PEPiN measure precarious employment?

Measure 1: Secure Employment

As noted in PEPiN NERD BLOG POST #2, precarious employment is often measured with proxies, and not direct measures of precarious employment. The problem with using proxies is that they do not necessarily correspond to what one really wants to measure.

We rely on two related measures of precarity. The first — Secure Employment — is simpler, while the second — the Employment Precarity Index — is more complicated (and will be discussed in PEPiN NERD BLOG POST #4). We are indebted to McMaster’s Dr. Wayne Lewchuk and his colleagues for both of these measures. By explaining the simpler measure of employment precarity first, we hope that our explanation of the second measure will be more clear.

This first measure — Secure Employment — is constructed from four questions asked in the PEPiN telephone survey. A respondent is assumed to have secure employment if they answer affirmatively to all four (4) of these questions:

Question #1 Do you have one employer?

Question #2 Is your job permanent, full-time?

Question #3 Do you expect to be in the same job in 12 months?

Question #4 Do you have benefits?

Source: PEPSO (2017) Personal correspondence with Dr. Wayne Lewchuk to Jonah Butovsky. 25 August 2017.

All respondents who answered YES to these four questions are coded as having secure employment in terms of this variable, Secure Employment. If a respondent answered NO to one or more of these four questions, they are coded as not having secure employment. This is a binary variable, meaning in this case that a respondent either does or does not have secure employment.

On the one hand, this makes it easy to identify who has secure employment. As we will see in later blog posts, this means we can compare outcomes on a second variable by secure employment. We can show this in a cross-tabulation, which is a special kind of table and its results.  If you want to know more about cross-tabulations, click here If not, read on.

But is  Secure Employment really a measure of precarious employment?

The reader will likely have just asked themselves this question: is the variable Secure Employment actually a measure of precarious employment?

To this we respond: that depends on how you define precarious employment. Secure Employment is a binary variable. Either one has secure employment or one does not. As you will recall from the box above, the Secure Employment variable measures whether or not the respondent answered YES to those four questions. And this can be a problem if it is our only measure of employment precarity.

Why? All other things being equal, persons answering YES to any three of those four questions are probably better off than persons answering YES to any two of those four questions. And in turn, they are probably better off than persons answering YES to any one of those four questions. And persons answering YES to just one of those four questions is still probably better off than someone answering NO to any of those four questions. Relying only on a Secure Employment variable, however, conceals this spectrum of differences.

With this in mind, we need a more complex measure of precarious employment. We need a measure that captures the spectrum of employment conditions. And that measure — the Employment Precarity Index — is the topic of NERD BLOG POST #4.