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Decent Work in America: The 2005 Work Environment Index


  • Jeannette Wicks-Lim
  • Robert Pollin
  • James Heintz


What are the factors that make for a decent work environment and how do the conditions of work vary in different parts of the United States? To address these and similarly important questions in a clear and accessible way, we have developed a new approach for measuring the work environment on a state-bystate basis throughout the United States (including the District of Columbia) – the Work Environment Index (WEI). This is the first installment of the WEI, and we intend to update it every year. The WEI is a unique social indicator that brings together in one measure a range of factors that, in combination, define the quality of our working lives in the U.S. today. The WEI examines three basic dimensions of the U.S. work environment: job opportunities, job quality and workplace fairness. We rank the 50 states and the District of Columbia according to these three categories. Based on our measures of job opportunities, job quality, and workplace fairness, we find that, overall, Delaware offers the best relative work environment in the United States. Other states with high WEI rankings include New Hampshire, Minnesota, Vermont and Iowa. The states with the lowest WEI rankings are Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Utah, South Carolina and Mississippi. Our state-by-state WEI ranking enables us to consider a crucial and widely-discussed issue: Do the states that provide a relatively decent work environment end up paying a penalty in terms of their overall economic climate? For example, do states that rank high according to the WEI score poorly in terms of their overall growth rate, the pace at which new businesses are being formed in the state, or their rate of new job creation? In fact, we find that overall economic conditions in states with a high WEI rank are at least as favorable, if not somewhat more favorable, than those with low WEI rankings. Along with this, we also find that poverty rates in states with high WEI rankings are consistently lower than states with low WEI rankings.

Suggested Citation

  • Jeannette Wicks-Lim & Robert Pollin & James Heintz, 2005. "Decent Work in America: The 2005 Work Environment Index," Published Studies dwa, Political Economy Research Institute, University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
  • Handle: RePEc:uma:perips:dwa

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    Cited by:

    1. Tod D. Rutherford & John Holmes, 2013. "(Small) Differences that (Still) Matter? Cross-Border Regions and Work Place Governance in the Southern Ontario and US Great Lakes Automotive Industry," Regional Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 47(1), pages 116-127, January.


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