How American Workers Compare Globally in 2019

Measuring how hard a country works is difficult. Each country wants to boast having the best workers, but it is a hard metric to measure.

Some countries boast having low unemployment rates as proof of having the best workers, while other countries point to their higher than average earnings for employees. Others argue they have the best workers because of how many hours employees put into work on average. All of these are important statistics, but no single trait is indicative of having the best workers.

Even if it is a hard question to answer, it is helpful for employees to compare themselves against other employees across the globe. Looking at why employees fare better in certain parts of the world is a good opportunity to recognize opportunities to grow locally. In some cases, looking at global working trends also helps predict future job trends, or gives job seekers who work abroad a better idea where their services are most appreciated.

Unemployment Rates

The unemployment rate has decreased significantly, stopping at 3.8 percent at the end of 2018. Moving into 2019, economists and the Federal Reserve estimate the unemployment rate will drop further to 3.5 percent at the end of the year. Given the size of the United States, this is even more impressive. There are other countries with lower unemployment rates, but with the exception of China which is within .10 percent of the United States, no other country on the list has nearly the same population size.

Average Income Across the World

Having a low unemployment rate is important, but it is only one piece of data. One of the problems currently facing American workers in 2019 is a lack of quality jobs. Many college graduates are forced to take either part time jobs, or jobs they are overqualified for. Part of this is due to an overly competitive job market. Workers are retiring at a later age, and more employees are applying for second jobs, even jobs below their qualifications. A 2017 study showed the average wage in the United States was $44,564. In service occupations, the average yearly wage was $28,028. For professional occupations, the yearly salary jumped to $64,220. The study showed yearly wages had increased slightly from the following year. However, it was one of the slower years for economic growth.

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Even with stagnant growth, the United States ranks as the 9th best country overall in terms of annual income. While these numbers are impressive, it is important to keep in mind countries have varying costs of living, with the United States having one of the highest.

Global Income Increases

Economics view expected income growth as a good indicator of a strong workforce. It is important to remember income growth is always estimated, and in the United States, companies are conservative with yearly predictions. One of the reasons companies do not want to overpredict potential growth is it is easier to address an influx of profits versus having to make up for missing projections. The United States is expected to see an increase, but the country is lagging behind the projected income growth of other countries.

Economists believes this is directly related to the limited number of high paying jobs available in the United States. The United States is expecting between one to three percent increase, which is in line with European and Canadian markets. However, Asian and Latin American markets are expected to see increases between five and six percent.

Economists believe the slower income growth suggests American employees are growing complacent in their careers. With limited high-paying jobs available, there is less room for corporate advancement. As a result, American workers are not as motivated to work for promotions, since they know promotions are largely reliant on someone in an upper-management position retiring. The complacency theory is supported by the low unemployment levels in the United States. This shows employees are able to find work, but because of the flooded market there is little room to advance.

Living Paycheck to Paycheck

Another metric economics study is how many employees live paycheck to paycheck. Normally, this metric is difficult to measure, as employees have different financial needs. Factors like whether the employee is married or comes from a wealthy family also influences whether an employee has a strong savings. As of writing, because of the government shutdown in the United States, economists are getting a better feel for who is living paycheck to paycheck.

Many government workers are reporting without their usual wages, they are struggling to make payments on their rent, mortgage or utilities. Several surveys show this struggle is not limited to government employees:

  • A 2017 survey by CareerBuilder identified 78 percent of American workers lived paycheck to paycheck.
  • The same survey found 50 percent of workers saved less than $100 per month.
  • A 2017 GoBankingRates survey showed 61 percent of American workers did not have any savings in case of an emergency.

Debt is also a growing issue for American workers. This is linked to the minimal income increase in the United States. Much of the debt comes from student loans. Students spend thousands of dollars to attend college, only to graduate and end up in low paying jobs.

Worker Productivity

Judging worker productivity is entirely subjective, relying on country-wide polls to get a general estimate for how productive workers feel. In a 2016 Global Attitudes Toward Work Report, American workers clocked in at 57 percent. 68 percent of American workers said they were comfortable with their professional and personal life balance. The United States were also at the top of the list for job satisfaction. Overall, the United States ranked closely with French and German in terms of productivity. Germany reported a slightly higher percent in productive work hours, but the United States was significantly higher than the 48.5 percent at the bottom of the spectrum.

One surprising statistic was how often employees checked social media on work. With how important social media is for Americans, it was expected the United States would rank the highest. However, the United States only used social media for an average of 14 minutes at work, while Greek employees took the lead with an average of 24 minutes.

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