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Employment provides income and, often, benefits that can support healthy lifestyle choices. Unemployment and underemployment limit these choices, and negatively affect both quality of life and overall health. The economic condition of a community and an individual’s level of educational attainment both play important roles in shaping employment opportunities. 

Why Is Employment Important to Health?

Most adults spend nearly half their waking hours at work. Working in a safe environment with fair compensation often provides not only income, but also benefits such as health insurance, paid sick leave, and workplace wellness programs that, together, support opportunities for healthy choices. 

These opportunities, however, are greater for higher wage earners - usually those with more education. The estimated 10 million workers who live below the federal poverty line face many challenges: they are less likely to have health insurance and access to preventive care than those with higher incomes and are more likely to work in hazardous jobs.  Parents in this situation may not be able to afford quality child care, and often lack paid leave to care for their families and themselves1

Those experiencing unemployment face even greater challenges to health and well-being, including lost income and, often, health insurance. Unemployed individuals are 54% more likely to be in poor or fair health than individuals who are employed, and are more likely to suffer from increased stress, high blood pressure, heart disease, and depression. Racial and ethnic minorities and those with less education, often already at-risk for poor health outcomes, are most likely to experience unemployment1

Some jobs pose risks to mental and physical health. Lack of control over working conditions and non-standard hours are associated with increased illness, injury, and mortality. Thousands of fatal work-related injuries occur each year. Nonfatal work-related injuries number in the millions, and cost billions of dollars in lost income, workers compensation, and productivity2,3.  

Employers and communities can work together to create opportunities to increase job skills for their residents, enhance local employment opportunities, and create supportive and safe work environments – to the benefit of the entire community. 


1 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. How does employment - or unemployment - affect health? Health Policy Snapshot Issue Brief. Princeton; March 2013. Accessed March 8, 2018. 

2 US Bureau of Labor Statistics. A look at workplace deaths and nonfatal injuries and illnesses for Workers’ Memorial Day. TED: the economics daily. April 2023. Accessed August 3, 2023. 

3 Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Business case for safety and health. Safety and health topics. Accessed August 3, 2023. 


Our Rankings show how healthy a community is as well as indicators for future health. This provides a starting point for action on improving health for all. Dig deeper into the measures below to learn more about our approaches to measuring health.