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.
Many employees, despite having a full-time gig, say they are ready to jump ship at their first chance. And many of them are doing their job searches while at work. Of those interviewed, 46 percent said they may leave their current employer, while 77 percent are actively or passively looking for a new job. Thirty-nine percent have looked for a new job while at work, and 94 percent of that group spend up to three hours a week looking at work.
Many also say they are working much longer with much less reward. In the past six months, 68 percent of workers had their job responsibilities or workload increase, while 55 percent said they have not received a raise in the past six months.
All of this is happening while the country is supposedly in an economic recovery.
"It's one thing to run faster in place when the rest of the economy is stagnating as well. But it cuts a little deeper when policymakers are telling you the economy is fine, and you are falling behind," said Jared Bernstein, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute.
So this Labor Day, workers may be thinking more about changing than celebrating their work. That's something most employers need to think about, Itkin said. "It's a wakeup call for employers," he said.
Oh, and by the way, the Kronos survey found another thing: Forty-three percent of employees anticipate having to do work-related activities on Labor Day.
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