Working conditions have continued to change and evolve for the American worker over the last ten years. To no one's surprise, the types of work that Americans are doing as compared to ten years ago have significantly changed. Along with changing job descriptions, work environments have changes as have rates of compensation, hours worked, and the worker culture.
The communication sector, and the service sector saw the biggest jumps -- again no surprise to anyone not living off in the woods. Both of these industries have been hit hard by the events of the last two years that have gone beyond any sort of predicted readjustment. And the most volatile industry of them all, the dot com has suffered setbacks that can be called nothing short of devastating. It's hard to believe that just three years ago they were buying up every spot on Superbowl Sunday.
The last two years have been all doom and gloom for the American worker, especially if all of his or pension plans were tied into mutual funds.. Unprecedented merger activity and downsizing to weather the economic winter have resulted in massive amounts of pink slips, fire sales, and bankruptcies While jobs have not been disappearing at the record rates as last year, there are still many more mass layoffs on the horizon.. In 2001 over two million jobs vanished (King 2002), a tremendous amount of them being high tech and/or dot.com related.
High tech employees who have lost their jobs seem almost immune to reentry with as many as 60-75% reported to be still out of work six months after layoff, and with each successive layoff their prospects are becoming dimmer.. With 318,7000 cuts in 2001, the telecommunications industry reported the most layoffs. The figure was nine times that of the previous year, Not coincidentally it was a year of huge change in the communication history which was as active as any industry in mergers and acquisitions.
Many publishing companies that hadn't changed ownership in a half a century or longer, found themselves being bought and then sold somewhere else before the ink on the new stationary had a chance to dry. Random House, Scribner, Harper's are all in foreign hands. Of the now big six international communication companies that control most of the publishing and broadcast businesses worldwide, five are operating in the red.
Many more such distress sales are expected.
It's become popular for companies to blame their woes on 9-11, but the business climate had already hit the skids before that infamous day. Despite record sales in the previous year, the travel and tourism industry was in dire straits. 9-11 just sped up the process. Two airlines have bit the dust and several others will go the way of the dinosaurs without government help. We may consider it to be a luxury business, but it is also the second largest employer in the United States, producing $582 billion in revenue in 2000. According to one report, a ten percent drop in demand over the next year -- which seems very likely -- would cause the elimination of 1.2 million American jobs. (Kearney 2002)
Despite the growth of the past ten years and all the new millionaires and wild went entrepreneurship. even in the year 2000 the average American worker was no better off than he or she was in 1992. Wages have increased slightly but still trailed inflation over the same time period. According to Department of Labor stats 66.4% of the population were placed in the workforce in 1992 as compared to 66.9 in 2001 (DOL) In raw numbers that translates from 118 million in 1992 to 135 million in 2002.
While wages have nudged up and people are earning more dollars, the buying power of that dollar is far more compromised than it was ten years ago. Based on the 1970 dollar being valued at 100%, the consumer price index's valued a 92 dollar at 23.8 cents and an 02 dollar at 18.9 cents.(DOL) Another year at this rate and a penny candy will be as much euphemism as the "five and dime."
And while we can report on a plethora of statistics what needs to be noted is the problems with measuring employment today by traditional calculations as more and more workers have to mark "none of the above," when describing their employment status. No one knows for sure how many workers are presently working part-time, or under the table, or are underemployed, It seems that thedot.com people who got canned early in the game when there were still vacancies at McDonald's were the lucky ones.
For three quarters of a century, Americans saw their pay go up and their work hours decrease and now suddenly the trend has gone the other way. More hours worked to make up for less pay. The sixty hour workweek is about to become the norm but in rare cases will all of those sixty hours come from a single company.
Literature used to predict that by the year 2000, employees would work a 30-hour week, and the remainder of time would be spent on leisure activities. As we approach the year 2000, with the results of organizational changes, jobs are beginning to be restructured as well. Now it seems more likely that half of the workforce will be engaged in 60-hour work weeks, while the rest will be unemployed." (St. James 2001)
With temps and outsourcing, companies are able to keep the full time employees to a minimum often keeping them just below the standard requirement for benefits.
The shrinking work week was a direct result of union advocacy. Union membership is down slightly from 1992.. It had peaked in 1983 at 20.1% for of all U.S. workers and now is down to about 13.5%. In 2001 the median salary for a Union worker was 718, for a nonunion worker it was $575.
While unions aren't likely to come back and be the force they once were, a number of kinder gentler companies who bank on their image of being progressive have instituted policies that reward their employees in different ways. These include special pre-taxation medical set-asides, creative investment planning, and often family perks such as day care centers at the workplace, mother's hours and a wide variety of flextime options, that can even encourage workers to work at home, "In its 1999 survey of the best companies for working mothers, Working Woman magazine found that all of the 100 companies chosen offered at least one flexible working arrangement." (St. James 2001). Another ideal introduced in the last five years are job guarantees,
IBM offers mothers and fathers three years of job-guaranteed time off. Procter & Gamble has expanded its reduced workweek policy, which originally allowed parents to work part time for up to five years following the birth of a child while keeping their same jobs; now any parent can switch to part time and stay on a reduced schedule." (St. James 2001)
The one thing the American worker can count on over the next decade is a lot of uncertainty. Those going out into the work world today, need to have a different mentality. The ideal worker of tomorrow (which is here today) will be able to work independently, and juggle more than one ball at a time. And above all else he or she must be flexible. Workers must be willing to take extra work when it is available and use it to hedge against those weeks when there isn't any work.
A lot of tech people have learned the hard way that specialization isn't always a good thing. Older workers are going to have to be willing to accept less pay but also take advantage of freelance opportunities where they might receive 20% more in exchange for…