Bob Cratchit’s toast to his miserly boss Ebenezer Scrooge as “the founder of the feast” that was his family’s modest holiday dinner not only encapsulates the spirit of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, it seems to represent the attitude of American workers celebrating Labor Day.
A new survey by the research group Conference Board shows that for the first time in 12 years, more than half of U.S. workers say they are satisfied with their jobs. But when you consider their circumstances, you might wonder why more aren’t railing for more pay and better benefits.
As stated in a recent Wall Street Journal article, “The average employee today shoulders more risk for her retirement and health care than in past generations, and enjoys less job security as the idea of a job for life has vanished.”
Younger workers have no sense of what it meant to work for the same company for 20, 30, or 40 years and earn the proverbial gold watch, with other lucrative benefits awaiting you upon retirement.
After the recession, most veteran workers are just happy to have a job, any job. But underemployment is rampant. It is not unusual to see people with recently obtained college degrees performing tasks that have no relationship to their major, or even to college.
The Conference Board survey of 1,600 workers showed 51 percent were very satisfied to somewhat satisfied with their jobs. About 52 percent feel safe from being laid off, which is up 6 percent from 2011; and 41 percent say they are pleased with their wages, a 5 percent increase.
Those numbers mean most workers would like a higher wage, which makes sense. No matter your salary, more income is always welcome. But the unprecedented level of wage disparity in this country also has many employees feeling they aren’t being paid fairly.
The top 10 percent of wage earners made about $2,095 in a typical week last year, compared with $415 for those in the bottom 10 percent. The Labor Department says that was the widest gap going back to 1979. Women generally make 80 percent of the salaries of their male peers.
Of course, executive pay is even more out of kilter. The base pay of the CEOs of Chipotle, McDonald’s, KFC-Taco Bell-Pizza Hut, and Dunkin’ Donuts is 66 times that of their cashiers, baristas, and delivery drivers, according to a survey by Eater, a Vox Media newsletter.
The unemployment rate rose slightly last month to 4.4 percent, but that’s still near the 16-year low of 4.3 percent the nation saw in July. More Americans are looking for work, which may push the rate higher. But no one is predicting a chill in the economy.
As the survey suggests, the American worker has adjusted to working longer hours, often for less pay, when you consider the increased cost of health care benefits, including higher premiums and deductibles.
Older workers no longer pine for the good old days, which are never coming back, and younger workers have no idea what you’re talking about. Taken together, those attitudes should make it easier for both groups to enjoy the day off — that is, if they have the day off.