Public Health Impacts of Underemployment and Unemployment in the United States: Exploring Perceptions, Gaps and Opportunities

Preethi Pratap, Alison Dickson, Marsha Love, Joe Zanoni, Caitlin Donato, Michael A. Flynn, Paul A. Schulte

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Unemployment, underemployment, and the quality of work are national occupational health risk factors that drive critical national problems; however, to date, there have been no systematic efforts to document the public health impact of this situation. Methods: An environmental scan was conducted to explore the root causes and health impacts of underemployment and unemployment and highlight multilevel perspectives and factors in the landscape of underemployment and unemployment. Methods: included a review of gray literature and research literature, followed by key informant interviews with nine organizational representatives in employment research and policy, workforce development, and industry to assess perceived needs and gaps in practice. Results: Evidence highlights the complex nature of underemployment and unemployment, with multiple macro-level underlying drivers, including the changing nature of work, a dynamic labor market, inadequate enforcement of labor protection standards, declining unions, wage depression, and weak political will interacting with multiple social determinants of health. Empirical literature on unemployment and physical, mental, and psychological well-being, substance abuse, depression in young adults, and suicides is quite extensive; however, there are limited data on the impacts of underemployment on worker health and well-being. Additionally, organizations do not routinely consider health outcomes as they relate to their work in workforce or policy development. Discussion and Conclusions: Several gaps in data and research will need to be addressed in order to assess the full magnitude of the public health burden of underemployment and unemployment. Public health needs to champion a research and practice agenda in partnership with multisector stakeholders to illuminate the role of employment quality and status in closing the gap on health inequities, and to integrate workforce health and well-being into labor and economic development agendas across government agencies and industry.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number10021
JournalInternational journal of environmental research and public health
Issue number19
StatePublished - Oct 1 2021


  • underemployment
  • United States
  • decent work
  • public health
  • health impacts
  • unemployment
  • Health impacts
  • Decent work
  • Unemployment
  • Public health
  • Underemployment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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