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If Wages Are Up, Why Are Workers Still Discontent?


A recent Gallup poll showed that fewer workers are worried about being laid off this year (19 percent, as opposed to 29 percent in 2013). In fact, workers were less worried about job setbacks in general, with fewer respondents citing concerns of cut benefits, hours, and wages. But this doesn’t mean that workers are necessarily happy at their jobs.

If Wages Are Up, Why Are Workers Still Discontent?

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NPR recently explored why Americans are still “grumpy,” even with the improving economy. Host David Greene cited a recent Rutgers University survey, which found “two of three Americans have felt no improvement over the last year and only about one in four expect things to get better in the year to come.”

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So, how do you explain the disconnect? Why would workers still be so unhappy when we’ve been hearing all this great news about the state of the American economy, and even workers themselves say that they’re less concerned about losing their jobs?

In the NPR segment, Scott Horsley reiterated just the latest of the cheery forecast(s) we’ve been hearing all summer: “Private employers have added nearly 10 million jobs in recent years. Unemployment has fallen to just above 6 percent. Auto sales are booming and forecasters expect a healthy back-to-school shopping season.”

Wages are up, too — at least, technically. The PayScale Index showed a 1.8 percent growth in wages for the second quarter of 2014, and predicts a 1.9 percent growth in wages for the third quarter.

To get to the bottom of why workers might be less than content, even while simultaneously being less concerned about getting fired, you need to look at what those wages will buy in today’s economy. The Payscale Real Wage Index, which reports the overall compensation trends complete with Consumer Price Index (CPI) implications, shows that real wages have dropped 7.9 percent since 2006. In other words, despite that uptick in the money you bring in, your income today buys less than it did eight years ago.

Perhaps even more troubling, from that Rutgers survey: “Researcher Cliff Zukin says 42 percent of those polled are still worse off than when the recession began.”

So, what’s the bottom line? Americans are still in recovery mode, and many have no immediate expectations that “things will get better.” Worrying less about disaster isn’t the same as looking forward to a better future.

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Esther Lombardi
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