Is the American Worker Disposable?

Is the American Worker Disposable?

"When I hear people talk about temp vs. permanent jobs, I laugh," said staffing industry analyst Barry Asin, who is quoted in a new book by Rutgers University public policy professor Carl E. Van Horn. "The idea that any job is permanent has been well proven not be true. We're all temps now."

Carl Van Horn

Van Horn asks the "American Worker Disposable" question in the title of the second chapter in "Working Scared (Or Not At All): The Lost Decade, Great Recession, and Restoring the Shattered American Dream."

"Most Americans get it that there is no reason to loyal to your employer, because they aren’t loyal to you and that isn’t necessarily good for employers. If [companies] want people to behave differently, they have to start behaving differently."

Van Horn heads the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers' New Brunswick campus. The center has conducted an impressive body of research, including interviews with 25,000 workers between 1998 and 2012.  I interviewed him last week for my article in the Philadelphia Inquirer

Disengagement at the workplace has broader ramifications as it spreads throughout society, Van Horn said. "I think it has wide consequences."

Fear of losing a paycheck "causes people to work longer and harder and stresses people out," he said. "That spills over into negative behaviors when you are stressed and anxious."

Frightened and insecure, people hang on to their money. "Probably people are inclined to save more," he said -- a strategy that is good for them, but damaging to an economy that relies on consumer spending.

The cynicism that employees feel at work translates into a cynicism toward many institutions. "It causes people to be very disaffected about governmental leaders," Van Horn said.

And it sets the stage for distrust of others. People tend to "be very suspicious about our trading partners and our immigrants" saying that "people from other countries are taking our jobs away."

Next: More on "Working Scared." Here's a video on the book.