TCS Daily


Thank God It's Monday

By Stephen W. Stanton - September 9, 2002 12:00 AM

Do you ever wonder about how American workers are doing? You could ask them. But these days, it is much easier to turn on TV.

CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, CNNFN, FOX, Headline News, Bloomberg TV, PBS, and the networks regularly provide updates on the labor market. The seven cable news channels provide a full week of programming to cover every day of news. Each channel must compete for ratings with bigger and bolder stories. But often, the world does not cooperate. An entire week can pass without a corporate scandal and without a new round of layoffs. When nothing happens, perhaps the news channels should just run a big banner that reads "S.S.D.D." (Same Stuff, Different Day).

But the unvarnished truth doesn't always get ratings. So to attract increasingly desensitized viewers, news channels turn to the time-honored tradition of sensationalism. For example, the Conference Board, a New York research group, just released a survey that indicated "job satisfaction is on the decline." Many news organizations - in keeping with media's long-running "downtrodden worker" theme - latched onto the story as yet another sign of corporate Armageddon.

That's fine so far as it goes, except there were many weaknesses in the Conference Board's survey. The findings were based on a single mail survey of 5,000 people that ignored the impact of the recession, corporate scandals, and the war on terror on respondent answers. Even with the confluence of these negative factors, the actual decline in job satisfaction was relatively minor. The number of satisfied workers fell from 59% in 1995 to 51% of the workforce currently.

So, despite the shortcomings of the Conference Board survey, are American workers dissatisfied? Thanks to the work of the scholar Karlyn Bowman of the American Enterprise Institute, there is now an abundance of hard data to answer that question. As it turns out, many surveys clearly contradict the Conference Board findings.

Bowman recently published a comprehensive study to identify the true sentiment of the American worker titled "Attitudes About Work, Chores, and Leisure in America." The study shattered the media myth of the disgruntled American worker. One of the opening lines summarizes the report's findings: "The vast majority of workers are satisfied with their jobs or the work they have chosen."

In fact, a full 89% of workers are at least fairly satisfied with their jobs according to recent surveys by the National Opinion Research Center and the Gallup Organization. Both groups maintain annual data stretching back to the 1970s. Research by Harris Interactive and Roper ASW put this job satisfaction figure at 91% and 88% respectively. In contrast to the Conference Board survey, Bowman relied on many independent polling organizations to gather objective data.

And what about job security? Bowman found that workers appear to be less interested than in the past in high job security, with two thirds of workers willing to trade some job security for a bigger paycheck. According to polls by Gallup and NBC/WSJ, half of all workers are completely satisfied with their current job security. Both surveys find that 82% of workers are at least "mostly satisfied."

Bowman's research outlines the real story of American employment. In general we are an empowered workforce and we take pride in our careers. Red ink on Wall Street has not created misery on Main Street. We appreciate having the highest standard of living in the history of the world. We are entrepreneurial and in control of our own lives. We aren't trying to make news. We are too busy making good lives for ourselves. Our careers give us the opportunity to make a difference both in the work that we do, and with the money that we make. Our careers enable us to buy homes, start families, and enjoy a rich life outside of work. We are generally satisfied. I am pretty darn happy with my own career, even with Arthur Andersen on my resume.

Newscasters tell stories and sometimes they tell sensational stories to attract viewers. Sometimes the story obscures the truth. The truth is that American workers are about as happy as ever. Corporate Hell does not enslave millions. This may not be newsworthy, but it is the truth. Even if it doesn't sell commercials.

The author is a tax consultant and small business advisor living in New York.
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