What a difference a decade makes: U.S. workers report across-the-board decline in job satisfaction

American workers are significantly less satisfied with their jobs, job security, work-family balance, income, health care and retirement options than they were 10 years ago, according to a national survey newly released by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.

In both the November 2009 and 1999 surveys, the answers to identical questions about eight aspects of work dropped across the board. Happiness with the number of hours worked (59% to 37%) and job security (59% to 41%) decreased the most dramatically. Additionally, there were declines of about 10 percentage points in overall job satisfaction, and satisfaction with income, health coverage, retirement and pensions, and the ability to balance work and family life.

“From 9/11 to surges in oil prices, to bank failures to shocks on Wall Street and in the housing market, the American worker has had a rough decade,” said study Co-Director and Professor Cliff Zukin. “They have watched the unpleasant economic realities of the past 10 years - for which they bear little personal responsibility - touch their lives in tangible and harmful ways. Taken as a whole, workers have little confidence in the American economy at the turn of a new decade.”

The survey’s findings obviously reflect the dramatic changes that have occurred in the past decade. American workers in 1999 were brimming with confidence: seven in 10 said it was a good time to find a quality job and almost two-thirds said they could get as good or a better job if they wanted or needed to do so. 

Not surprisingly, today’s workers have a much grimmer perspective: The percentage of workers “very concerned” about the unemployment rate skyrocketed from 18% in 1999 to a staggering 63% today. Only one in 10 say it is a good time to find a job, while just two in 10 feel confident they could find a new job as good or better than the one they now have.

While satisfaction declined among all groups for each of the eight items, there are some noteworthy differences:
  • Overall job satisfaction decreased more among those who have attended at least some college than it did among those with only a high school education.
  • Satisfaction with health and medical benefits dropped more sharply among women (a 19 percentage point decline) than among men (5 points).
  • Satisfaction with opportunities for education or training declined more for those under 40 years of age than for those older.

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