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Job Satisfaction Under Perpetual Stagnation

Do you hate your job?  Do you dread getting up on Monday morning and schlepping to the office, factory, store, desk or wherever that serves, at best, as a place to earn a few dollars to meet ever-increasing needs?  Or are you excited by the challenges and opportunities that Monday morning represents, the problems you’ll deal with, the fellowship with co-workers, the sense of accomplish that comes with a job well done and the money you’ll make?

Americans are deeply dissatisfied with their jobs.  A 2015 Conference Board report stated, “for the eighth straight year, less than half of US workers are satisfied with their jobs.”  It found that only 48.3 percent were satisfied, really happy, at work.  In 2013, it reported that 47.7 percent of workers were satisfied with their jobs – a minuscule increase of 0.6 percentage points. The Conference Board has been conducting annual job satisfaction surveys since decades.  It found that the country hit bottom in 2010 when only 42.6 percent reported satisfaction and, in the report’s words, “well below the historical level of 61.1 percent in 1987.”

A 2015 Gallup survey suggests a different perspective on job satisfaction, finding that overall job satisfaction was up compared to 2005.  It arrived at this assessment examining a half-dozen variables, including health insurance benefits, vacation time, retirement plan, promotions, on-the-job recognition, flexibility and wages.

However, it warned: “Despite large improvements over the past 10 years [since 2005] in how they view many aspects of their jobs, less than half of employed Americans say they are “completely satisfied” with the recognition they receive at work for their accomplishments (45%) and the health insurance benefits their employer offers (40%).”  It concluded, “Even
sinsexsubfewer are ‘completely satisfied’ with the retirement plan offered (35%) and their chances for a promotion (35%).”

The great restructuring of capitalism is underway – and it is changing the lives of everyone on the plant, including U.S. working people.  Capitalism is evolving from an international system of nation states to a global system of financial plunder.  And nowhere is it felt – or struggled over – more than at the workplace.

Officially, the U.S. has steadily been climbing out of the worst of Great Recession.   In January, President Obama proudly proclaimed in his State of the Union address:

Let me start with the economy, and a basic fact: the United States of America, right now, has the strongest, most durable economy in the world. We’re in the middle of the longest streak of private-sector job creation in history. More than 14 million new jobs; the strongest two years of job growth since the ’90s; an unemployment rate cut in half. Our auto industry just had its best year ever. Manufacturing has created nearly 900,000 new jobs in the past six years. And we’ve done all this while cutting our deficits by almost three-quarters.

Unfortunately, the president failed to address two key issues — stagnant wages and high turnover especially among the low-wage jobholders.  Overall, the jobs created have been at lower wages than previously periods of recovery and the median household real incomes has not recovered from the recession.

Earlier this year, the National Association of Counties reported that only 7 percent (or 214 counties) of the nation’s 3,069 counties have recovered from the Great Recession – thus, 93 percent have not recovered.  Four indicators — total employment, the unemployment rate, size of the economy and home values – determined recovery.  Americans continue to suffer.

Many factors contribute to deepening sense of dissatisfaction, but none more so than wage stagnation.  In September 2015, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) painted a grim picture of the historic condition now gripping the nation in terms of wages:  “Since 1973, hourly compensation of the vast majority of American workers has not risen in line with economy-wide productivity.”  It then stressed, “In fact, hourly compensation has almost stopped rising at all. Net productivity grew 72.2 percent between 1973 and 2014. Yet inflation-adjusted hourly compensation of the median worker rose just 8.7 percent, or 0.20 percent annually, over this same period, with essentially all of the growth occurring between 1995 and 2002.”

EPI’s assessment was confirmed by a December 2014 study conducted by Monster and the Wage Indicator Foundation. It found that wages in small firms (<10 employees) are typically just about $14 per hour, while U.S. wages in larger firms (5,000+ employees) are double that of a small firm, $30 an hour.   It noted, “while employees at larger companies in the U.S. might be raking in higher wages, employees across the board are still relatively dissatisfied with how much they make.”  It added, “more than 65% of employees are not satisfied with their pay.”  Almost as an afterthought, it offered an up-beat assessment of deepening worker dissatisfaction:  “Despite the unhappiness with wages, the majority of employees in the U.S. (77.6%) are relatively satisfied with the work relationships they have with their colleagues, showing interpersonal interaction may trump wages.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) divides the U.S. labor force into three categories: Employed, Unemployed and Not-in-Labor-Force (NLF).  Perhaps most troubling is the dissatisfaction among NLF workers.  According to the BLS website, Jobenomics: “Since year 2000, the Not-in-Labor-Force cadre grew from 68.7 million to 94.1 million, an increase of 25.4 million citizens, who often become dependent on public and familial forms of financial assistance.”

Turnover is particularly high among low-wage jobs (e.g., the hospitality industry) and “contingent” — “gig” or on-demand — workers.  The BLS defines contingent workers as those holding “nonstandard work arrangements” or those without “permanent jobs with a traditional employer-employee relationship.”  It further distinguished between: (i) “core” contingency workers are agency temps, direct-hire temps, on-call laborers and contract workers; and (ii) “non-core” workers are independent contractors, self-employed workers and standard part-time workers who work fewer than 35 hours per week.  Non-core temps — notably writers, programmers, filmmakers and other “hip” indies — are the media darlings highlighting the new “entrepreneur” economy and to distort the perilous conditions faced by this growing segment to the workforce.

These workers are part of America’s new proletariat. They share many of the same conditions: no employer-sponsored health insurance, 401Ks or FLEX accounts; no Social Security employee contribution or unemployment compensation; no sick or vacation pay; no chance to join a union or move up the corporate ladder.  A 2015 survey of 1,330 gig workers reported in Information Week found that nearly half (48.5%) attributed low pay “being the most common cause of attrition.”  They do share the one attributed that Marx identified 150 years ago: They have nothing to lose but their chains.

The first lap of the 2016 electoral horse race is nearing the finishing line and the two current leaders – Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump — are preparing for a head-to-head joust for the presidency.  Thanks to fierce grassroots and labor organizing, the $15 per hour minimum wage has become law in California, New York State and Seattle.  Pushed vigorously by Bernie Sanders and embraced with conditions by Clinton, wages and job dissatisfaction may become an issue in the November electoral showdown.  If Clinton and the Democrats aggressively push this issue they might force a decisive wedge in Trump’s fictitious nationalist rhetoric.

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David Rosen is the author of Sex, Sin & Subversion:  The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New Normal (Skyhorse, 2015).  He can be reached at drosennyc@verizon.net; check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com.

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