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Jirs Meuris

Research Findings

The price employers pay for employees’ financial precarity

August 25, 2018

It is difficult to overlook the growing number of reports and studies documenting the downward spiral of personal financial wellness within the United States. The American Psychological Association, for example, indicates that finances have become a more frequently cited source of stress than work, family, or health concerns. The Federal Reserve Board further reports that half of the population does not have $400 in the event of an emergency, while spending equals or exceeds income for many households.

As Neal Gabler summarizes in the Atlantic, “In the 1950s and ‘60s, economic growth democratized prosperity. In the 2010s, we have democratized financial insecurity.”

Although rising debt and stagnating incomes are often ascribed as the main culprits for this turn of events, the impact of historic changes in employment relations and the organization of work on these trends tends to be understated if not go unmentioned. Research suggests that companies have increasingly relied on contingent workers, adopted variable pay and scheduling schemes, laid off employees, and increased employees’ share of the costs and risk associated with fringe benefits since the mid-1970s, which in sum has created a context for financial uncertainty and precarity to thrive among a substantial segment of the population.

Given the contribution of changing work practices to the current crisis in personal finance in the United States, an open question that has not received much attention is whether these trends carry economic implications for employers.

We set out to answer this question by collaborating with a national transportation company to collect survey data from over 1,000 short-haul truck drivers and track their accident rates for the subsequent 8 months.

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