Life at Work

What Are We Celebrating?

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 4, 2005

Labor Day: that one time a year when we have a Monday off without commemorating something horrendous or momentous that happened years ago. Believed to have been started with a parade on Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City, probably by Peter J. McGuire, a carpenters and joiners union secretary, Labor Day now marks a time for workers to reflect on their jobs.

And this year, the scene isn't pretty, according to surveys released days ago on the state of working America.

A majority of workers (53 percent) say their income is not keeping up with prices, according to an AFL-CIO Labor Day survey that found that most working Americans say they are falling behind economically. More than 800 people were interviewed for the survey.

More than half say they're not doing better than their parents did at the same age. Also, 54 percent of workers are worried and concerned, rather than hopeful and confident, about achieving their economic and financial goals, according to the survey. In 1999, 70 percent of workers were "hopeful and confident."

So why the doomsday scenario?

"The thing we saw this year which was really startling is the study showed workers are feeling undervalued," said Stuart Itkin, a vice president with Kronos Inc., a workforce management company that also did a study about workers' feelings this Labor Day. "The number of hours they are working is increasing, and that increase is growing. Businesses are looking to do more with less. Employees see they are all working harder and they are getting little out of it. And their compensation is remaining relatively static."

That's enough to make you want to stay under the covers on Monday morning.

Just 39 percent of workers say they have a job that is full time and has employer-provided health coverage and a retirement plan to which the employer contributes.

"Wages are flat or falling. Health care costs for families with employer coverage shot up 79 percent from 1996 to 2003. Imagine the hit on families struggling to make it without job-based coverage," said John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, in prepared remarks when the survey was released.

The survey also found that nearly 70 percent of workers believe that most of the new jobs being created are lower-paying positions. That is up from 56 percent who held that belief six years ago.

Sigh. Is it really that bad?

Well, according to the Kronos survey of more than 1,000 full-time workers, it is.

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