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I have a few questions for you: Are you happy in your work? Put another way: Do you like your job? Or is it just an economic necessity that you tolerate?
Apparently, these are questions that occupy the time of most Americans. According to the findings of the Conference Board research group - which issues a job satisfaction report every year - a record number of Americans are not happy with what they do for a living.
According to the report, only 45 percent of Americans say they are satisfied with what they do to make money. The Conference Board has studied this matter for nearly 25 years, and that’s the lowest number it has ever recorded.
It seems fairly shocking, doesn’t it, that almost six in 10 Americans don’t like their jobs? This is supposed to be the country of limitless opportunities, the country where dreams really can come true. But if that many people are miserable in their work, what does that say about America? What’s really going on?
As you’d expect, those who study such matters are placing a lot of blame on the lingering recession, our worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. But since people who are unemployed don’t have jobs to be miserable about, that’s hardly the answer.
Many people who are working are considered “underemployed,” working at jobs that pay them less than what they need, or they have jobs that are not consistent with their level of education.
Again, the 45 percent number of those happy at work represents the lowest number ever recorded; as recently as 1987, 61 percent of Americans liked their jobs. Something profound has changed in recent years.
For one thing, union membership has steadily dropped over the past decades. The decline of the old smokestack industries is partly to blame for that. But conservative propaganda has relentlessly demonized unions and turned some people against them.
The fact remains that unionized workers get better pay and better benefits, not to mention protection from arbitrary firings and other punishments that workers can suffer from corporations when they’re not organized and don’t have the benefits of collective bargaining.
I used the word “worker.” But have you noticed? We’re all “associates” these days, a word I rather despise. It’s a thinly-disguised corporate attempt to make us think we’re a partner with management. But most of us know better.
John L. Lewis, the legendary leader of the United Mine Workers, got it right when he said, “Without organization you’re a lone individual, without influence or recognition of any kind.” Go ahead. Stand alone. Walk into your boss’ office by yourself and ask for a raise. When he says no, you find out what standing alone is all about.
In a nation where the real state religion is capitalism, not Christianity or any other religion, corporate power is the dominant fact of the land. The power of Wal-Mart speaks to that in a way that cannot be denied.
But the lack of more union membership and activity can’t likely fully explain why so many are unhappy at work. Some of that six in 10 who say they’re dissatisfied may even be members of a union.
Without getting into a philosophical debate about what makes people happy in general, it will be difficult to explain what the Conference Board found.
But there used to be a time, not so long ago, when a man could work on his own, with the wife at home, and support his whole family. That’s the way I grew up; but it’s increasingly rare these days.
Unhappy at work? Well, it appears you have a lot of company.
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Rick Howell, a Bedford native, can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com.