An uncertain Labor Day for U.S. workers - East Valley Tribune: News

An uncertain Labor Day for U.S. workers

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Posted: Monday, September 3, 2007 1:01 am | Updated: 5:55 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Labor Day presents an opportunity for workers everywhere to reflect on what’s good and bad about how they earn a living.

Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau and various economists weighed in on the current state of the nation’s workers.

While median household income is up, the number of people without health insurance is also on the rise, according to the bureau.

And current economic trends no doubt have many workers stressed about job security.

“In the short term, we’re entering a period where things are going to be somewhat more uncertain,” said Tracy Clark, an economist with the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. “It just depends on whether the national economy slows a lot or manages a soft landing. We’re going to follow the national economy. If the national economy goes really slow, we’re going to slow down.”

The Washington, D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute is particularly bothered by the current climate facing American workers.

“The productivity gains in the 2000s tell us that the American work force has been working harder and smarter,” said Jared Bernstein, an economist with the institute, which researches the impact of economic trends and policies on the nation’s workers.

“The problem is that their contribution to the growing economy simply isn’t showing up in their paychecks. And as the economy slows in mid-2007, it’s going to be tough to reverse the wage stagnation that’s prevailed since late 2003. Workers have a right to wonder: ‘Is this as good as it gets?’”

Gary Burtless, an economist with the Brookings Institution, a Washington D.C.-based organization that provides research and solutions to policymakers and news media, said the latest Census figures reveal:

• Overall, wages for men and women working full time and yearround dropped between 2005 and 2006.

• During the same time frame, more working-age people were on the job, as opposed to unemployed.

• Since 2000, the number of American workers ages 25 to 34 covered by an employer’s health insurance plan has dropped by 7.7 percent. That falloff was 6.5 percent for workers 35 to 44, and 5.4 percent for workers 45 to 54.

• The rise in household income reflects increases in higher-paying, upper-level positions, as opposed to mid-level and lower-level jobs.

The year 2000 was the peak year for most people in terms of wages, and most workers have since fallen behind, Burtless said.

“If you take the average wage paid to everybody ... and you divide it by the total number of hours the average American is putting in for the job, wages have gone up, but they’ve gone up by only about fourtenths or five-tenths of a point per year,” Burtress said. “That’s definitely more slowly than the rise in productivity.”

In the meantime, more people are remaining in the work force long after the traditional retirement age, Clark said.

“In the case of some people, they found out they didn’t save enough for retirement,” he said. “In the case of a lot of people, what we’re seeing is general health and everything improved. The time period where you’re able and willing to work because you feel good enough and you want something to do is just expanding.”

Now more than ever, because of globalization and intense competition, companies are focused on being “very productive and lean” and that means people have to work harder and longer in order to keep their jobs, Clark said.

“Companies are now viewing their employees differently,” he said.

Despite some economic slowing, Arizona remains a land of opportunity where people can get the jobs they want, and the salaries they want if they’re productive and have something to offer employers, said Don Wehbey, senior economist with the Arizona Department of Economic Security.

“If someone is productive ... they will find themselves in a good job or they should get themselves into a good job,” he said. “I would definitely tell anybody in this economy that if they’re not satisfied with where they are, and they know and they can pretty much show that they’re a high-end producer ... if your employer doesn’t compensate you enough, somebody else will.”

Since 2004, there have been notable increases in income in Arizona, Wehbey said.

“We have had a significant number of businesses hiring, so you’ve got a lot of investment and they’re all competing for that talent,” he said.

28% Percentage of workers 16 and older who work more than 40 hours a week. Eight percent work 60 or more hours a week.

4 years Median number of years workers have been with their current employer.

79,400 The largest increase in employment among the nation’s 325 largest counties between September 2005 and September 2006. Harris County (Houston), Texas.

56% Projected percentage growth from 2002 to 2014 in the number of home health aides. Forecasters expect this occupation to grow at a faster rate than any other. Meanwhile, the occupation expected to add more positions over this period than any other is retail salespeople (736,000).

77% Percentage of workers who drove alone to work. Another 11 percent car pooled, and 5 percent took public transportation (excluding taxicabs).

25.1 minutes The average time it takes to commute to work. New York residents had the most time-consuming commute in the nation — 31.2 minutes.

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