The Fruits of Our Labor

Employment is about much more than money; it equates to lifestyle choices and opportunities.

September 1, 2014


Labor Day weekend is a last hurrah of summer; an opportunity to assemble around the picnic table, swimming hole, or campfire on a welcome “Monday off.” For many, it is also a day to consider the pursuits and fruits of usual workaday labors.

“Labor Day… is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers,” notes The United States Department of Labor.

“It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

Of course, just as we contribute to the prosperity of the national economy through work, our jobs contribute to our personal household prosperity and well-being, often in ways beyond the financial.

The way consumers think about their jobs, their employment realities, and how much they have to spend mean more than just dollars and cents.

It equates to lifestyle choices and opportunities.

Research this week illuminates consumers’ perception about jobs, confidence levels in continuing employment, and, for some, work-dependent obstacles that still exist in achieving life goals—all of which contribute to national economic well-being.

‘I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.’–Thomas Jefferson

In U.S., 55% of Workers Get Sense of Identity From Their Job,” says Gallup. This majority perspective is consistent with previous Gallup polls on the topic.

College graduates are most apt to indicate jobs provide a sense of identity, at 70%; maybe the result of additional job opportunities than those without a degree.

Also of interest: 58% of those 45+ years old find a sense of identity at work, compared to 52% of those 18 to 44 years old.

Given that careers often provide a sense of identity, let’s examine “What the American Consumer is Thinking,” in another Gallup report.

Here you’ll find evidence of improving consumer attitudes, although challenges persist.

“For many consumers, the economic downturn left lasting financial and emotional scars. And nagging job worries have led them to hold on to a recessionary mindset that emphasizes saving over spending.”

And, though more Americans feel “now is a good time to find a quality job,” only 26% of adults felt this way.

In order to vitalize spending, “consumers will need to see steady, long-term job growth as well as better job opportunities and bigger paychecks. This is especially true of underemployed Americans.”

The differing spending attitudes between those employed and underemployed “could be costing the U.S. economy hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Another challenge: “There are a Lot More 50-Somethings Working Three Jobs,” observes CNN Money, as “115,000 people over the age of 55 are working three jobs… a 170% increase from 43,000 in 1994.”

Millennials are stressed, too. According to a Business Insider survey, “millennials… struggle to secure good-paying, full-time jobs in line with their education levels.”

The survey reveals:

  • 16% are unable to find a job after six months of searching;
  • 24% applied to 11 or more full-time jobs before being hired; and
  • 44% say a first full-time position did not require a college degree.

Another overall disappointment is “Economic Recovery Marked by Lower Paying Jobs,” says a study cited in the Los Angeles Times. Although the economy has recovered jobs lost, “the new jobs pay an average of 23% less than the ones lost in the downturn.”

‘Without labor, nothing prospers.’—Sophocles

There is reason for optimism, however, as “Better Paying Jobs Stage a Comeback,” says The Washington Post.

The article notes that employment in construction, manufacturing, and professional services is on an uptick.

These industries pay a “median hourly wage of at least $20.”

Further, “Nearly 40% of the jobs created over the past six months have been in high-wage industries, compared with just a quarter during the last half of 2013.”

More good news: “Pay Raises Continual Gradual Growth,” reports “U.S. employees are starting to see the effects of the economic recovery… The latest Mercer compensation report found that the average pay raise expected… in 2015 will be 3%, up from 2.7% in 2012.”

And, “top performers” will find raises above their 2014 increases of 4.8%.

Jobs in the energy industry “led the way by a wide margin, with a projected average pay increase of 3.5%.”

Indeed, “Wage Growth Picking Up in Some Sectors,” says USA Today. Even lower-paying jobs in leisure and hospitality “were up 2.7% in June from a year ago, vs. a 0.6% annual increase in June 2013” as hotels experience increased business and vacation travel.

‘There is no substitute for hard work.’—Thomas Edison

Sentiment regarding job security is on the rise, reports Gallup.  “Fewer than one in five U.S. full- and part-time workers currently worry that they will be laid off in the near future, down sharply from 29% last year,” the report notes.

This statistic indicates “a return of worker confidence to the upper end of the range Gallup saw in the years prior to the financial collapse in late 2008.”

Furthermore, employees are less worried about reduction in benefits, wages, and hours worked, although “reductions in benefits (34%) remain the most common job-related worry.”

Finally, in another survey nod to job security, Gallup also reports, “Satisfaction with many job aspects returns to high pre-recession levels.”

Fifty-eight percent of workers—both full- and part-time—say they “are completely satisfied with their job security.”

Measured aspects of satisfaction include physical safety, recognition, levels of job stress, relationships with co-workers and supervisor, compensation, and other benefits.

“It is not clear… if employers have worked to improve working conditions and benefits, or if general improvements in the economy and job market have made workers more satisfied. The latter seems to be the case when thinking about job security.”

Many components exist for consumers in finding job opportunities, security, and satisfaction—all of which present ramifications in their willingness to spend and, consequently, the health of our national economy.

Do your members enjoy the fruits of their labors?

LORA BRAY is an information research analyst for CUNA’s economics and statistics department. Follow her on Twitter via @Bray_Lora, and visit the CUNA blog,The Research Roundup: Economic Perspectives.”