Employment covers employment status, such as employed in the labor force, unemployed, underemployed and not in the labor force; and employment type either being full-time, part-time, contractor or seasonal. Underemployment is the under-use of a worker due to a job that does not use the worker's skills, or is part time, or leaves the worker idle (1).

For most people, employment is typically the primary source of income and it enables individuals and families to acquire healthy and nutritious meals, quality childcare, educational opportunities and healthier homes (2). An individual’s job often comes with benefits such as health insurance and economic stability that can support healthy lifestyles. The average American typically spends half of their waking hours at the work place. Workplace conditions, as well as the nature of the work we do, influence our health.

High levels of unemployment and underemployment within a community can have substantial implications on overall health and well-being. Individuals who are unemployed face many immediate challenges, such as lost income and benefits like health insurance, which in turn can raise stress levels that create a cascade of poor health outcomes. Unemployed individuals are 54 percent more likely to be in poor or fair health than those who are employed, and have a greater chance of suffering from high stress levels, high blood pressure, heart disease and depression (1). Employees who were recently laid off are 83 percent more likely to develop a stress-related condition such as heart disease (2). Additionally, 10.5 million Americans have jobs, but have incomes that fall below the poverty level, which can be a barrier to vital preventive care that keep them healthy. Only 64 percent of low-income earners reported they had a regular doctor, compared to 89 percent of high-income earners (3).

Work influences our health in many ways. The physical setting of the workplace can determine the types of occupational exposure to physical hazards a worker may encounter during work, which can increase the risk of work-related injuries and illness. This is true especially in dangerous occupations such as construction or law enforcement. The work experience itself affects our health through the types of work-related stresses we experience, with the levels of these stressors dictated by factors such as the degree of control employees perceive they have over their working conditions and schedules. This can lead to increased stress and negative physical and mental health outcomes (4). 

How work can influence health

Source: RWJF, 2011, Retrieved from: https://www.rwjf.org/content/dam/farm/reports/issue_briefs/2011/rwjf70459

Work-related resources, such as income, health insurance, workplace wellness programs, child care, retirement benefits and paid sick/personal leave are protective health components offered by gainful employment. These resources influence the major health-related choices available to a person. They can enable an individual or family to purchase more nutritious foods, live in healthier homes and obtain quality child and/or elder care, which in turn can lower stress and the ability to retain work, acquire health insurance and educate their children (5).

Health Disparities and Inequities

Without sufficient resources and income to make ends meet, the effects of stress can build up — making even minor demands more stressful — and can have negative effects on an individual’s health. Discrimination in the workplace erodes the quality of routine interpersonal exchanges and increases levels of stress for workers who encounter racism in their occupations.Individuals facing economic and social disadvantages experience more challenges and often have fewer resources to respond to these threats. This heightens an individual’s stress and can have negative impacts on health. When it comes to accessing to a wide range of personal, social, educational and material resources across the lifespan, the presence of significant race and class disparities exacerbates stress and has negative impacts on health (6).

Higher levels of education are linked with a greater likelihood of being gainfully employed with higher earnings, and while education levels have risen among Blacks and Hispanics and Latinos, and members of these groups continue to move into higher-skilled/higher-paying occupations, the proportion of them entering fields such as management and professional jobs remains smaller and their earnings remain lower compared to whites and Asians (5).

Unemployment rate for Jefferson County workforce (16 years and older), by census tract 

US Census, ACS 2013-2017 5-year estimates, Table: S2301

Implications and Data for Jefferson County

Unemployment rates in Jefferson County started increasing in 2007 with the beginning of the Great Recession and have been steadily declining since 2010. Jefferson County's unemployment rates are consistently lower than Colorado, but mirror the trends seen at the state level.

*Not adjusted for seasonal variations

Community Health Needs Assessment Focus Group Findings

Across focus groups, participants recognized the need to connect underserved residents to services like employment and financial support, noting that this can help improve their quality of life.

Community Health Needs Assessment Key Informant Interview Findings 

Representatives working for veterans in the county noted that gainful employment was a need for many of the veterans coming in for assistance. They reflected a need for vocational training and other similar programs that can assist with reintegrating a returning service member back into society.

Informants working with individuals with disabilities in the community reported their efforts at moving toward an “Employment First” model. This framework focuses on integrated community-based employment to allow these individuals to more fully participate in the community and resolve some potential coexisting issues, such as mental illness incidence.

Informants noted a need for greater employment opportunities that provide jobs with sufficient and sustainable wages, given the substantial cost of living increase that is forcing working class families on the margins to seek public assistance and other community resources, such as human services.

Generally, several informants said they were concerned about the health and well-being of low-income residents struggling to make ends meet. They pointed out the need to find more efficient means of connecting these individuals to resources that can help them with their struggles with housing, food, transportation, access to health care and finding gainful employment. Click here to learn more about income.

Note: Due to the small sample size among American Indians and Alaskan Natives, and Native Hawaii and other Pacific Islanders in Jefferson County, data on these populations was suppressed. 'Other' races include all other races. Due to the way the Census calculates this rate, American Indians and Alaskan Natives and Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders could not be included in the 'Other' category.


Reference List

1. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (2018). Employment. Retrieved from: http://www.countyhealthrankings.org/explore-health-rankings/what-and-why-we-rank/health-factors/social-and-economic-factors/employment

2. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (2013, March 12). How does employment - or unemployment - affect health? [Issue Brief]. Retrieved from: https://www.rwjf.org/en/library/research/2012/12/how-does-employment--or-unemployment--affect-health-.html

3. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (2013). Stable Jobs=Healthier Lives. Retrieved from: https://www.rwjf.org/en/library/infographics/infographic--stable-jobs---healthier-lives.html

4. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (2011, May). Work, workplaces, and health [Issue Brief]. Retrieved from: https://www.rwjf.org/content/dam/farm/reports/issue_briefs/2011/rwjf70459

5. An J, Braveman P, Dekker M, Egerter S, Grossman-Kahn R. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (2011, May). Work, workplaces and health. [Issue Brief]. Retrieved from: https://www.rwjf.org/content/dam/farm/reports/issue_briefs/2011/rwjf70459

6. Brondolo, E. , Libretti, M. , Rivera, L. and Walsemann, K. M. (2012), Racism and Social Capital: The Implications for Social and Physical Well‐Being. Journal of Social Issues, 68: 358-384. Retrieved from: http://risclab.rutgers.edu/newsite/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/brondolo-article.pdf


Data Sources

Colorado Department of Labor and Employment: https://www.colmigateway.com/vosnet/lmi/default.aspx?pu=1&plang=E

US Census, ACS: American Community Survey - American Factfinder (Table: S2301): https://www.census.gov

Click the logos below to return to the assessment home page. 

Published on July 17, 2018

Updated on January 28, 2020