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Unemployment is at a 50-year low — too bad most workers don't like their jobs

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  • 6 in 10 workers say the quality of their jobs range from mediocre to bad, a new Gallup survey finds.
  • Employees surveyed by the polling organization say their incomes have risen, but other aspects of their jobs haven't improved in the last five years.
  • Many workers say their benefits are now worse than they were five years ago. 

The U.S. unemployment rate is at a 50-year low, meaning that it's easier to find work than it has been for decades. Now for the bad news: 60% if workers say the quality of their jobs is mediocre or even downright poor.

The findings come from the first-ever survey of job quality by polling organization Gallup, conducted in partnership with the Omidyar Network, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Lumina Foundation. The survey stemmed from a push to understand the dynamics of the workplace beyond the employment and wage data tracked by government agencies, Gallup principal economist Jonathan Rothwell told CBS MoneyWatch. 

"There are several macroeconomic factors that have led me to think that job quality might be a serious problem," Rothwell said. 

Those include rising income inequality, with income gains increasingly going to the rich, and the long-term decline in the labor force participation rate among prime-age workers, he added.

For instance, roughly 1 in 7 working-age men in the U.S. isn't employed, higher than before the 2008 housing crash. That could be due to a decision by some workers to stay on government aid or to rely on family support rather than settling for a low-quality jobs, such as one with unstable hours and no benefits, Rothwell noted. 

"The larger channel I worry about are the mental and physical health effects that can come from being exposed to a bad job for a long time," he noted.

Although 59% of workers say their pay has increased in the last five years, other aspects of job quality haven't improved. One in 5 workers said their benefits are worse now than five years ago, for example. 

Inequality divides the job market, too

Who reports having a good job is also linked to race and gender, the study found. While 13% of whites say they're in bad jobs, that rises to 25% for black workers and 22% for Hispanic employees. About 31% of black women report being in a bad job, compared with 11% of white women. 

Not surprisingly, income and education also come into play. Two-thirds of Americans in the top 10% of income earners say they have good jobs, but fewer than one-third of those in the bottom 20% are in good jobs. 

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"That's important given the big increase in income inequality we are confronting now," Rothwell noted.

Even low-wage jobs have the opportunity to improve their quality, he added. Providing job training and career advancement, as well as the chance to be creative in their jobs, could help improve the quality of low-paid work, for example. 

"There are many factors that go beyond compensation that really matter to people," Rothwell said.

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