American workers, especially college graduates, have grown increasingly dissatisfied with most aspects of their jobs in recent years, according to a massive study of the work force prepared for the Department of Labor.
Workers reported a decline in both comfort and challenge in their jobs and a rising concern over the adequacy of pay and job security.
In bad news for the Carter administration's anti-inflation fight, they indicated that they want more pay and fringe benefits above everything else their jobs can offer them.
The University of Michigan's Institute for Seocial Research, which based its findings on three successive surveys of 1,500 workers between 1969 and 1977, could offer no single, simple reason for the apparent growth of job dissatisfaction.
Based on a process of elimination, it concluded that workers are less happy with their jobs because of rising expectations that were unfulfilled, rather than because of any deteriorating in working conditions.
Labor Department analysts added another theory: that concern over inflation, declining productivity and the well-being of major social institutions creates a "fairly powerful set of influences" coloring workers' perceptions of what is happening to their whole standard of living.
They pointed out that the study showed a general decline in workers' satisfaction with most other aspects of life, including their own physical condition, with more people reporting problems ranging from back pains and sweaty palms to lower energy levels-indicating that job attitudes any be affected by a broader malaise.
The study's findings are "not unrelated to declines in attitudes toward many of our social, political and economic institutions," said Peter Henle, deputy assistant secretary for policy evaluation.
While rating the job satisfaction decline as "significant," the analysts cautioned that most workers are still satisfied with their work and according to Henle, there is no evidence of a "whole alienation of the work force or loss of the work ethic.
Said Labor Secretary Ray Mashall: "By and large, the majority of American workers are still quite satisfied with most aspects of their jobs. But the decline in job satisfaction over the past four years is significant and cannot be ignored."
A rise in job disatisfaction among blue-collar workers between 1969 and 1973 led to widespread concern over "blue-collar blues," but it wasn't until the 1973-77 period that dissatisfaction began to spread through most of the rest of the work force, striking belatedly among white-collar workers.
Although a decline in job satisfaction showed up at all levels of educational attainment, it was most prominent among those with college degrees and to a somewhat lesser extent those with post-graduate training.
This, plus the high number of workers who complained that their skills were under-utilized in their jobs, appeared to dovetail with other studies showing that colleges are churning out graduates faster than the marketplace can create jobs that match their training and skills. This, in turn, forces workers all down the line into lesser jobs, the studies show.
In the 1977 survey, the lowest over-all levels of job satisfaction were reported by workers under 30, blacks, semiskilled blue-collar workers and manufacturing industry employees. Self-employed workers reported high levels of job satisfaction.
When asked directly whether they were satisfied with their jobs, 88 percent said they were at least somewhat satisfied, only marginally less than in 1973 and 1969. What was signaficant was the more precipitous drop when workers were asked about specific aspects of their jobs, said Graham L. Staines, codirector of the survey.
For instance, 35 percent of the respondants said their pay was not good in 1977, while 25 percent made the same assessment in 1973. Workers also indicated considerably less satisfaction with their job security, working hours and on-the-job challenge.
Overall, the study showed that one in five workers felt their family income was inadequate to meet monthly expenses, the same as in 1973 but more than in 1969. Among black workers, three workers in five cited inadequate income.
Seven in 10 union members said they were at least somewhat satisfied with their unions. Among the unorganized, 30 percent of white-collar workers and 40 percent of unorganized workers said they would like to have unions represent them.
As for inflationary implications, fewer than one in five workers said they would trade 10-percent wage increase for more job autonomy, less tiring work or more pleasant working conditions, although about half said the would trade such a wage increase for better fringe benefits.
The study added an inflation footnote of its own: it cost the government$220,000 in 1969, $330,000 in 1973 and $430,000 in 1977. A17