2007 February 24 Saturday
Americans Less Satisfied With Jobs

Capitalism is not making people more happy. How come? People are becoming less satisfied with their jobs.

Americans are growing increasingly unhappy with their jobs, The Conference Board reports today. The decline in job satisfaction is widespread among workers of all ages and across all income brackets.

Half of all Americans today say they are satisfied with their jobs, down from nearly 60 percent in 1995. But among the 50 percent who say they are content, only 14 percent say they are “very satisfied.”

This report, which is based on a representative sample of 5,000 U.S. households, conducted for The Conference Board by TNS, a leading market information company (LSE: TNN), also includes information collected independently by TNS. This information reveals that approximately one-quarter of the American workforce is simply “showing up to collect a paycheck.”

My guess is that some of the people who are just showing up to collect a paycheck are holding back on the truth.

Rising productivity demands. Work longer hours of uncompensated time. Use lousy tools under lousy working conditions (noise, annoying intercom announcements, the heater is broken). Why be satisfied with all of that?

“Rapid technological changes, rising productivity demands and changing employee expectations have all contributed to the decline in job satisfaction,” says Lynn Franco, Director of The Conference Board’s Consumer Research Center. “As large numbers of baby boomers prepare to leave the workforce, they will be increasingly replaced by younger workers, who tend to be as dissatisfied with their jobs, but have different attitudes and expectations about the role of work in their lives. This transition will present a new challenge for employers.”

Are people growing dissatisfied due to rising expectations? Or at least due to rising dreams?

Job satisfaction has even declined in upper income brackets. Though I'm skeptical that those making a million dollars a year are feeling dissatisfied.

The survey finds that job satisfaction has declined across all income brackets in the last nine years. While 55 percent of workers earning more than $50,000 are satisfied with their jobs, only 14 percent claim they are very satisfied. At the other end of the pay scale (workers earning less than $15,000), about 45 percent of workers are satisfied, but only 17 percent express a strong level of satisfaction.

Money sounds like it is the biggest cause of dissatisfaction.

The survey also finds that employees are least satisfied with their companies’ bonus plans, promotion policies, health plans and pensions. The majority are most satisfied with their commutes to work and their relationships with colleagues.

The biggest decline is at early middle age.

  • The largest decline in overall job satisfaction, from 60.9% to 49.2%, occurred among workers 35-44.
  • The second largest decline took place among workers aged 45-54, with the satisfaction level dropping from 57.3% to 47.7%.

Why would people making less than $35,000 per year have previously had a 55.7% job satisfaction? That seems high for jobs with such low pay.

  • The largest decline in job satisfaction took place among householders earning $25,000 to $35,000, with satisfaction falling from 55.7% to 41.4%. This income group expressed the second lowest level of overall satisfaction.
  • The second largest decline was posted by householders earning $35,000-$50,000. This group experienced a decline from 59.7% to 46.7%.

Will this growing wave of dissatisfaction find political expression? If so, in what form? What demands will dissatisfied workers make of elected office holders?

Update: My guess: One of the causes of rising dissatisfaction is increased knowledge of how more successful people live. Everything from TV shows like Cribs (which shows the houses of rock star and rapper celebrities) to HGTV channel shows on expensive houses across America show how the higher income people live. The wealthy flaunt it to a much greater extent. Cable TV channels show you what they have in detail. Plus, a larger fraction of all wealth is held by a very small fraction of the population.

People would be happier if the wealthy hid their wealth. But the big mansions are too visible and the $60,000 and $100,000 SUVs and cars are too easy to spot. Many people will feel poor and lower status in comparison. And they will compare. The desire for higher status and the attention to status are wired into human brains.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2007 February 24 10:32 PM  Economics Labor


Comments
Stephen said at February 25, 2007 2:26 AM:

What happened to the Leisure Age? I was looking forward to that.

Wolf-Dog said at February 25, 2007 3:07 PM:

This lack of satisfaction with jobs, and the general malaise, might be connected with the fact that the average American is suffering from the continual annual foreign trade deficit, which is over $700 billion per year, which is more than 6 % of the GDP and almost 10 % of the money supply M2, every year. This is a transfer of wealth, resulting in a net loss of savings, which cannot be offset by any asset bubble.

Tim said at February 26, 2007 9:53 AM:

People used to hide their wealth, or at least be more discrete about it. I went to school with a guy who was part Mellon on his mother's side. His father's side was here before the Mayflower. The fanciest car they had was a station wagon. Fabulously wealthy, but very low-key. A good way to live in my opinion, especially if you have money. Why attract attention to yourself? I never understood that. Not to be a prude, but the displayes of wealth today are rather vulgar and lack taste. Millionaires stroll about looking like homeless derelicts. It is like ordering the most expensive wine in a fancy restaurant in the loudest voice possible so that all around you hear it. I expect that kind of vulgarity from idiot rap "artists", but whites should know better.
I don't know if people are more disatisfied with their jobs, but I think they are more disatisfied with what their jobs bring them. People see so much wealth displayed in outlandish ways and they want it too. Individuals at top end of the economy are engaging more and more in displays of in-your-face conspicious consumption. It doesn't matter that more people today have more things and toys than ever before. Christ everybody has a car, a TV, cell phone, PS3, you name it.

And, like the rest of you, I make millions a year and I am unhappy too.

nz conservative said at February 26, 2007 7:50 PM:

Both right and left liberal ideology undermines happiness.

The liberal-right claims that underachivement is due to lack of will power rather than ability, hence it encourages people to knock themsleves unrealisitically.

The liberal left is constantly making people feel guility about not doing enough to help the "disadvantaged". It is also making people lives more miserable by burdening them with more bureaucracy and adding to their work responsibilities, while at the same restricting how they can fulfill those responsibilities.

It people were given more freedom to do their work as they see fit, and were given a more realistic idea about their own abilities from an early age, they might be a bit happier at school and work.

Mark Amerman said at March 1, 2007 10:37 AM:

But is it really capitalism when the government is so heavily
into promoting monopolies and the wealthy? Read Adam Smith again and
ask yourself if that was what he was truly advocating, or if
instead, the more reasonable reading is that this is precisely
a good part of what the man was preaching against.

Compare the economy of the United States in 1810, when a good
many influential people understood and advocated Adam Smith's ideas,
to that of today and try to estimate and compare the relative
percentages of the economy that were dominated by monopoly or near-monopoly.

spect8or said at March 4, 2007 3:12 AM:

Aside from exposing, in great detail, the disparities in material wealth between haves and have nots, could a slightly different effect of constant dislplays of ostentatiousness be that our *social* lives are contrasted against those of celebrities and found lacking (or more lacking than ever)? It's one thing to work harder in the belief that more wealth will bring you more material goods, but quite another to realize that no matter how hard you work you're never going to have as many hot women fawning over you as [insert male celebrity].

Also, might other social trends be driving job dissatsifaction? Perhaps in earlier times it might have been easier to "sacrifice" -- to grit your teeth and get on with the job, no matter how mundane or back-breaking -- because you felt you were doing something for future generations. These days, with the diversicrats in charge, is there as much incentive to grit your teeth and build something for future generations of...aliens? (More crudely, if the country as seen as going to s---, wouldn't working, along with everything else, feel less satisying?

As for finding political expression, perhaps labor movements of the future might begin demanding fewer hours, rather than more pay? If being at work sucks, perhaps people will place greater value on being away from work than on the handful of dollars more they might earn by working longer.


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