Economic uncertainty reflects on Monday's holiday

Sunday, September 2, 2001

WASHINGTON -- The almost daily announcements of layoffs have created an uncertainty among America's workers that dampens this Labor Day for many.

For Monica Hinojos, the headlines are more than just depressing news -- they are reality. Hinojos, 32, of Boston has been laid off twice this year, her jobs among the thousands of casualties of a softening economy.

"I wouldn't say I'm bitter, but I don't see loyalty in the same way," she said.

That is true for a lot of workers, according to a survey of 2,785 workers returning questionnaires to Walker Information, an Indianapolis research firm.

Limited company loyalty

Just 24 percent of the workers responding said they were committed to the company they work for and plan to stay at least two years. Only about half said they would recommend their employer to others seeking a job.

Today's worker makes an average of $14.27, works 34.2 hours a week, gets an average of 9.3 paid holidays per year and has held the current job an average of 3.5 years, according to the latest numbers from the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Hinojos got her latest pink slip last week, from Computerworld magazine, where she worked in the events department. She had been there for two months.

"I was the last one in, so it just kind of made sense," she said.

The job was not a perfect fit for Hinojos, so it was not devastating news. She took the job in almost a panic after being laid off April 30 from the marketing job she loved at Allaire Corp., an Internet software company that was bought by Macromedia Inc.

"There was a lack of communication -- nobody really knew what was going on," she said of her first layoff. "There was a lot of speculation and rumors, and all of a sudden it hit. It was tough -- and to see a lot of people go who were really solid was hard."

Layoffs have driven the nation's unemployment rate from a 30-year-low of 3.9 percent in October to 4.5 percent in July. Many economists are predicting the jobless rate will continue to rise, but remain at or below 5 percent.

A gloomy economy has created some grumpy workers. But the prosperity of recent years could be adding to that with higher career expectations.

"The question people are asking is, 'Why should I make myself miserable in a job I hate, especially if it will mean more hours and more headaches?"' said Ed LaFreniere of The Marlin Company in North Haven, Conn., a developer of workplace communications products.

In the boss' shoes

Nearly three in four workers surveyed by Marlin said they would not want the job of their boss. But workers with the highest incomes were more likely to say they wanted it. The telephone survey of 751 American workers had an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

"Today people find it important to strike a balance between dedication to their personal lives, spending time with their families and pursuing personal goals," said Marlin's president, Frank Kenna III.

What American workers are saying and the reality appear to differ. Americans actually are putting in the longest hours in the industrialized world, spending nearly one week more on the job per year than they did a decade ago, according to a study by the International Labor Organization.

The average American worked 1,978 hours last year, up from 1,942 hours in 1990. Americans are working only less than workers in Korea and the Czech Republic, said the study by the U.N. agency.

The barrier between work and off-time appears to be eroding. About 43 percent of people surveyed by Ipsos-Reid Corp., a market research firm, said they spend their time off dealing with work issues.

"Hours are increasing and productivity is increasing, but at what cost?" said Jeff Johnson, an ILO economist.

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