Employment is deeply connected to health – compared to their counterparts, those who are employed have lower rates of self-reported poor health, long-term illnesses and risky health behaviors (e.g., alcoholism, smoking). While it is not always clear whether improved health comes from working or whether poor health keeps people from being employed (known as the Healthy Worker Effect), we do know jobs that provide living wages allow workers to live in healthier neighborhoods, buy nutritious food, afford child care services and pay for educational expenses. Good jobs also provide benefits that increase access to healthcare and protect against poverty after retirement (visit the Community & Health Services page to learn more *link will be provided when available*). Altogether, higher incomes are tied to longer lifespans across the United States (click here to explore the life expectancy map for Napa County as well as other health outcomes).

A strong labor market is critically important to the health of a region. Employment provides capable workers with benefits ranging from wages to health insurance to opportunities to forge lasting interpersonal connections – but regional employment levels also affect non-workers, such as through local labor taxes (which may be applied to public projects) and the staffing of public service programs.

Employment is often described using two measures, employment rates and labor force participation. A community’s employment rate is the percentage of individuals who are employed out of the total labor force. The labor force refers to the regional population of individuals aged 16 years or older who have a paid job or are looking for work. Labor force participation refers to the percentage of individuals who have or are looking for a job out of the total community population aged 16 years or older. Students and retirees are counted in the labor force only if they are actively working or searching for work.

As described in the chart below, Napa’s employment rates and labor force participation rates were higher than state averages from 2012 to 2017. Employment rates have followed an increasing trend, while labor force participation has been relatively constant. 

Estimates of the total numbers of individuals aged 16 years or older in Napa County, of the labor force and of individuals employed in the County are provided in the Methods & Appendix (link will be provided when available).

Employment and unemployment have a strong influence on poverty or socio-economic welfare of a community, which in turn affect the health experiences that members of the community are likely to have. When employment is widespread, residents are more likely to have the means to afford necessities like housing, food, and medicine. In contrast, when employment declines and un- or under-employment are more widespread, people increasingly face homelessness, hunger, and disease. Under these conditions, quality of life deteriorates for everyone in the community unless steps are taken to reverse the employment trend and/or provide supportive services.

The map provided below shows employment rates by census tract. The census tracts with the lowest employment rates in the County (range 88-91%) are shown in the lightest shade of blue and are located in American Canyon (2), the City of Napa (4), St. Helena (1) and in the unincorporated census tract in the northeast section of the County. 

Napa County residents across the lifespan are active in the labor force. The proportion of people in the region who were working or looking for work out of the total population aged 16 years or older was at 65.6% in 2017, above the state level of 63.5%. Young people in Napa, those aged 16-24 years, were the most likely to work or be looking for work when compared to their statewide peers: 59.6% of young people in Napa were in the labor force, as opposed to only 53.6% statewide.

Employment rates in the County, including among older adults, are also higher than in the State of California overall. According to these measures, individuals aged 55-64 years participate in the work force at particularly dramatic rates, with nearly 97% of all such individuals who want to work do so. Notably, employment rates are above 90% for all groups except the youngest in the County (individuals aged 16-24), of whom 89.2% are employed.

Because these numbers include both people who are actively working and those who are looking for work, their high levels should be interpreted with a measure of caution: while active employment is typically associated with better health, the search for work – particularly in older age – can be a sign of poverty, which can lead to poorer health outcomes.

Employment rates in Napa County vary slightly by racial/ethnic background. The graph on the right presents employment information from the 2017 American Community Survey, which reports on employment for non-Hispanic White, Hispanic and Asian populations. Due to low counts, data for the remaining populations are pooled in the “Other” category. Overall, Napa County's employment rates were higher than the State's. Most rates for Napa were well above 90% except for the “Other” group, which was found to have an employment rate at approximately 86%. 

Estimates of the total number of individuals in the labor force and employed in Napa County and in California, broken out by age group and race/ ethnicity, are provided in the Methods & Appendix (link will be provided when available).

In describing where people work, the chart below provides a snapshot of the types and number of jobs held by people employed in Napa County in July and August of 2018. Leisure and Hospitality (including hotels and restaurants) and Manufacturing (including wine, food product and other manufacturing) were the County’s two largest employment sectors and reflect the dominance of the wine industry in the County’s economy.

The United States’ federal government defines a full-time employee as one who works an average of 30 hours or more per week or 130 hours per month. Under the 2010 federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), individuals or organizations employing more than 50 people must offer their full-time employees health insurance or pay a tax penalty. To many people, therefore, having full-time work with a sizable company is a primary route to securing health-promoting benefits.

Not having full-time work — or not having work year-round — opens a person to physical, mental, social and financial risks arising from poverty coupled with illness or injury. Examples of individuals who are not employed full-time, year-round include those who work part-time; temporary, seasonal and flexible workers; contractors; apprentices; fellows; and trainees. Many have voluntary or “non-economic” reasons for part-time work, such as school, childcare issues, family and/or personal obligations, health limitations and retiree or Social Security benefit criteria. Nonetheless, a sizable group of people work part-time due to involuntary reasons, such as reduced hours, business conditions or lack of full-time employment opportunities; nearly 800,000 people or about one-sixth of part-time workers in California fall in this category. 

The percentage of individuals who were employed only part-time or for part of the year (i.e., were not employed full-time, year-round) over the 2014-2017 time period are presented in the line graph to the right. As the graph indicates, levels of part-time or partial-year employment among individuals aged 20 years and older have been fairly steady since 2014. The majority of the traditional workforce – those individuals aged 20-64 years – have maintained the lowest rates of part-time employment (and, in contrast, the highest levels of full-time employment) over this time period. A moderate percentage of employed people aged 65 years and older have been employed part-time and/or for part of the year in the same time frame. Individuals between the ages of 16-19 years have experienced slight shifts in employment levels, but a vast majority were still excluded from full-time employment in 2017 (with 92.8% employed only part-time or for part of the year). Breakdown of data on part-time employment by industry and other demographic groups (e.g., race/ethnicity) is not readily available.

In 2016-2017, the median full-time wage in California was about $21.53 per hour; this estimate did not adjust for cost of living, and the calculation did not include the wages of people who were self-employed. Those who earned less than two-thirds of this median wage (about $14.35 per hour) were considered low-wage workers. Generally, workers living and/or working in the Bay Area are less likely to earn low wages. However, among workers aged 18 to 64, one in three people who worked in Napa County and more than one in four employed individuals who lived here earned low wages. In comparing rates to those in neighboring counties, we see that Napa County exceeded Sonoma and Marin counties in its percentage of low-wage workers and exceeded Marin in percentage of low-wage-earning residents.

Before taxes, a person working full-time, year-round at $14.35 per hour would earn $29,848 per year, or about $2,487.33 per month. While full-time employees are generally eligible to purchase health insurance through their employer, situations vary, and insurance available for purchase may be quite costly relative to a person’s income and circumstances. Moreover, an income of $29,848 per year would typically disqualify a person (or even a family of up to three people) from receiving MediCal benefits. Overall, such conditions raise the risk of poverty and illness to individuals, their families, and even their communities.

Using the $14.35/hr marker to designate low-wage work, we see that more than half of the individuals who live in Napa County and work in farming, fishing, and forestry; personal care and service; food preparation; and maintenance earn low wages. Nearly a quarter of all employed people in Napa County work in these occupations.

Furthermore, a fair portion of employees struggle with underemployment — not having enough hours, pay or opportunities to make full use of their skill set, which includes the "working poor" and those with more than a single job. Workers may also experience wage theft where, for example, they are not paid for overtime work or asked to work (additionally) for little to no compensation. Employees may be improperly classified (e.g., part-time, contractor) so that the employer does not have to provide benefits. Altogether, these compound the risks to the livelihood of individuals, families and communities as discussed above. Unfortunately, further data on underemployment and wage theft are limited, especially at the local level.

Visit the following links to explore and learn more about wages



California Department of Public Health, Office of Health Equity. (2018). Unemployment Rate. Retrieved December 3, 2018 from https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/OHE/CDPH%20Document%20Library/HCI/ADA%20Compliant%20Documents/HCI_Unemployment_290_Narrative_and_examples-7-14-14-ADA.pdf

Chetty, R., Stepner, M., Abraham, S., Lin, S., Scuderi, B., Turner, N., ... & Cutler, D. (2016). The association between income and life expectancy in the United States, 2001-2014. JAMA, 315(16), 1750-1766.

Rasmussen, D. W. (2018). Poverty in Retirement: The Long-Term Impact of Rising Economic Inequality. SSRN.

County Employment Rates

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (2013) How does employment – or unemployment – affect health?. Retrieved December 3, 2018 from https://www.rwjf.org/content/dam/farm/reports/issue_briefs/2013/rwjf403360

Adler, N. E., Cutler, D. M., Jonathan, J. E., Galea, S., Glymour, M., Koh, H. K., & Satcher, D. (2016). Addressing social determinants of health and health disparities. Vital Directions for Health and Health Care Initiative: National Academy of Medicine Perspectives.

Work Status

United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2018). Alternative Measures of Labor Underutilization, California – 2017. Retrieved Feb 4, 2019 from https://www.bls.gov/regions/west/news-release/laborunderutilization_california.htm

United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2018). Who chooses part-time work and why?. Retrieved Feb 4, 2019 from https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2018/article/who-chooses-part-time-work-and-why.htm


Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (2019). Living Wage Calculator. Retrieved Feb 4, 2019 from http://livingwage.mit.edu/counties/06055

State of California, Employment Development Department. (2019). Napa County Profile. Retrieved Feb 4, 2019 from https://www.labormarketinfo.edd.ca.gov/geography/napa-county.html

UC Berkeley Labor Center. (2018). Low-wage Work in California Data Explorer. Retrieved Feb 4, 2019 from http://laborcenter.berkeley.edu/low-wage-work-in-california/

UCLA Labor Center. (2015). What is wage theft?. Retrieved Feb 4, 2019 from https://www.labor.ucla.edu/wage-theft/