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The Bitter American Worker

Posted by: Diane Brady on May 29, 2008

I came across two interesting studies today that paint a pessimistic view of attitudes in the workplace.

The first is a national survey from the Marlin Company showing that 75% of US workers believe the American Dream is not as attainable as it was eight years ago. More than half say it’s simply “unattainable” for the average American (about the same number, by the way, blame the political system for their woes).

And what is the American dream? In the survey, it’s defined as “the opportunity to have a nice home, financial security for you and your family, and hope for the future.”

The second study, from The Economic Policy Institute, points to one potential reason for the bitterness: family incomes have become shakier in recent years. Almost 10% of working-age adults have experienced a severe income drop at some point over the past eight years. And the volatility doesn’t come from all those women with Harvard MBAs choosing to stay home with their babies. Dual-earner families have experienced less volatility than those that have one breadwinner and a stay-at-home spouse.

Reader Comments


May 30, 2008 10:33 AM

This is hardly a surprise, on either score. Loyalty of the employer to employee is dead and has been gone since the 90s, at least. In better times, this has been positive as far as individual income goes because it forces employees who no longer have job security to review the market, and they often can move to better paying jobs...and have to in order to make up for the lost income during their periods of unemployement. The employee salary figures do not take into account income lost to unemployment durations,a fter all. During less rosy economic times, those laid-off employees cannot find new work at their old rates, and have to settle for less and less income. In my unfortunate experience, many middle-class families require two full-time working parents, even though one income goes entirely to paying the cost of childcare. If they do not have this, when the primary wage-earner loses their job, the effects of the job loss on income lead to crippling debt (the other problem we are experiencing in the marketplace).


May 31, 2008 10:43 AM

I can hardly disagree with JeanK especially concerning how employer view employees. We are living in a time where cost means everything to companies; in other words, no matter how good the employee is, the employee is going nowhere with a higher salary. So, it doesn't matter how good you are (of course there are fields such a programming where its an exception)companies will not pay you more for being better than the rest. Company's now say take it or leave it.


June 2, 2008 12:45 PM

Do we need multiple studies to tell us what most of us already know (from experience of our own/family/friends)? With globalization comes less predictability and more competition. To retain our comparative advantage, the only way we can do is to move up-market. For businesses, it can't be chasing the bottom. For individuals, we have to constantly refresh ourselves to keep up-to-date. Not that any of these are bad things at all, which we should have been doing, regardless of environmental forces. But we have to acknowledge there are segments in population who cannot or will not or are unable to achieve that. And while I'm not a total fan of big government, I do not subscribe to the idea that anything and everything can/should be worked out by market forces. Our education system is falling behind world peers. Research fundings are cut. Our boiling cauldron is leaking fundings, big time, to unnecessary wars (which is Bush/GOP's alternative answer to big-government) and health care (which Bush refuses to let medicare exercise collective bargaining for lowering prices, thanks to close ties to lobbyists). And the USD is going down the tube, for a long time to come. With the Bush administration screwing up at the top, we are barely treading water at the bottom. Am I angry? I sure am.

Jim Haudan, author, The Art of Engagement

June 2, 2008 2:43 PM

While these statistics may be real, the nature of media is to take us to the “ICUs” and “critical care areas” of our economy and workplace. Instead, we should recognize that there are also “maternity wards” where new opportunities are being born. Because of the difficult economy, new challenges are creating new opportunities – for companies and for individuals.

This reflects the theories of Joseph Schumpeter, who proposed that real capitalism exists in a state of “creative destruction,” where innovation destroys established enterprises while at the same time giving birth to new ones. If we look at any period in history where there was great upheaval, we see that a new kind of economy follows.

Of course, this doesn’t help the average worker. But if companies take the mindset that challenges bring opportunities to innovate, then things may take on a different tone.

Liz K.

June 3, 2008 1:17 AM

Can you summarize any demographic patterns with the participants of those studies? There has been lively debate about whether it's a "generation" thing. Gen X in this case, is supposedly the generation that's dissatisfied with work. (

Kailie Quinn

June 11, 2008 2:12 PM


You're half right. The blanket statement that there is no employee loyalty only holds true in certain places.

Right to work states for example, have never had loyalty, because employers have had the right to fire employees for little to no reason. Employees are also highly irresponsible in the way the abuse benefits. Health care, for example, could be much more affordable if people didn't treat it like it's free medical care. Rather than it being akin to car insurance, people run out to the doctor if they have the sniffles, if one of their kids has the sniffles. Worse yet, when you make that doctor visit, the doctor charges the insurance company 900-1200 dollars minimum for the visit, whereas you would have paid a little over a hundred had you walked in and paid cash.

There is blame on both sides, but employees bear the brunt of the blame. I consider fat, lazy, sickly workers to be every bit as damning to my workplace environment and livelihood as a boss who likes to chop heads. Why? Because at the end of the day, they will be taking money out of my pocket for their sicktime, for the extra snacks they sneak from the 'on your honor' break room and for the medical bills they run up simply because they can't be bothered to put down the donut and pick up a dumbell.

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