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Mixed Outlook for Workers as Labor Day Passes

September 11, 2009
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The celebration of Labor Day 2009 left workers with a reason to toast their good fortune and cry in their beer.

Job losses continue, the unemployment rate keeps rising, and Americans’ job satisfaction has fallen amid a lingering recession. What’s more, experts contend the labor market is among the last areas of the economy to recover. Still, there are some bright spots in the largely gloomy job scene.

Among them is evidence most Americans are happy on the job.

A recent survey commissioned by job board SnagAJob.com of about 1,000 working adults in the U.S. found that more than half—58 percent—say they are happy on the job.

“Even as we continue to face layoffs and other corporate cutbacks, the majority of the American workforce remains upbeat about their jobs,” Shawn Boyer, chief executive of SnagAJob.com, said in a statement.

The optimism comes in the face of grim statistics.

On September 4, the Labor Department said employers cut an additional 216,000 payroll jobs in August. Job declines have moderated in recent months, but the unemployment rate rose in August to 9.7 percent, up from 9.4 percent in July. There are now 14.9 million unemployed Americans, roughly double the number unemployed at the start of the recession in December 2007.

 There are nearly six unemployed workers for every job opening, says Heather Boushey, a senior economist at the Center for American Progress think tank. In a report published September 4, Boushey called for attention to be given to those out of work for extended periods.

“Once workers lose their job, it continues to be extremely difficult to get back into the workforce,” Boushey writes. “The typical worker is now spending 15.4 weeks unemployed.”

 In early September, the National Employment Law Project advocacy group called for Congress to expand jobless benefits.

“Hundreds of thousands of jobless workers are on the verge of exhausting their unemployment benefits, with no job to fall back on,” Christine Owens, the group’s executive director, said in a statement September 4.

Those with a job aren’t as jazzed about work, according to the SnagAJob .com study. Happiness on the job has decreased by 7 percentage points in the past year, the report found.

 Job security emerged as a key to contentment in the study. Most of the workers surveyed—52 percent—reported a decline in job security during the past year. Of those, 49 percent expressed happiness with their jobs. Of those who think their jobs are more secure, 70 percent say they are happy at work.

Economic security has emerged as a key issue in the past decade or so, as firms have routinely laid off workers and shifted retirement responsibility to employees.

Some reports have found decreased employee engagement during the recession. But signals have been mixed. A recent study sponsored by staffing firm Randstad found that employee morale is the highest it has been since 2004.

—Ed Frauenheim

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