Americans' Job Dissatisfaction Hits 22-Year High

On Tuesday, the Conference Board published results of a survey showing that 55% of American workers are dissatisfied with their jobs, the highest rate in 22 years, the Associated Press reported. My first reaction to this news was to wonder whether there had been a comparable survey of the unemployed. There was: It turns out that last month, The New York Times and CBS did such a survey which concluded that the unemployed are miserable. Given the current economic conditions, you'd think the 5,000 workers polled by the Conference Board would be happy just to have a job.%%DynaPub-Enhancement class="enhancement contentType-HTML Content fragmentId-1 payloadId-61603 alignment-right size-small"%% But they're not, and here's why:

  • Fewer workers consider their jobs to be interesting -- 51% now, compared to 70% in 1987, according to the AP.
  • Workers' incomes have not kept up with inflation -- between 2000 to 2007, the median family income adjusted for inflation fell to $50,233 according to the Economic Policy Institute.
  • The climbing cost of health insurance has taken a bigger share of workers' take-home pay.
But the unhappiness is not spread equally across all age groups. The most unhappy workers were those under 25: 64% of them said they weren't happy in their jobs.

The real problem is that what's bad for workers is great for employers. As I posted, productivity grew 8.1% in the third quarter of 2009 and there are 6.3 workers for every available job. This means that companies -- which have been firing workers since December 2007 -- now hold the upper hand, with their most-talented employees working the longest hours and getting no raises.

The good news here is that when the economy recovers, those workers will be extremely productive -- for new employers who treat them better. For the sake of the U.S. economy, I hope that those new employers are venture-backed start-ups. When the best employees start defecting to new growth companies, the companies currently causing all the worker misery will pay the price.

While I can't fault people for complaining about their work, The New York Times/CBS survey of 708 unemployed workers found that 25% faced foreclosure, 25% were living on food stamps, 50% had cut back on luxuries and necessities, and 70% rated their family financial situation as bad. In the competition for most miserable, the unemployed beat the working whiners of the Conference Board survey hands down.

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