Why the American Worker Is Miserable This Labor Day

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- If you're a member of the workforce fortunate enough to get three days off this Labor Day weekend, congratulations: You're less miserable than most of your post-recession colleagues.

In a survey by travel site Expedia, U.S. workers reported earning 14 vacation days, but used only 10 and left twice as many vacation days on the table in 2013 as they did in 2012. Not only does that vacation day allotment trail the 30 earned by workers in France, Spain and Denmark, but the days U.S. workers actually take off exceeds only the eight taken by workers in Thailand and seven by laborers in Japan and South Korea. Meanwhile, a Harris survey indicates that more than 91% of U.S. workers do work-related tasks on their personal time, with 37% devoting more than 10 off-the-clock hours to work each week.

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But that's old-fashioned, just nose-to-the-grindstone American work ethic, right? Nope. It's workers' fear that jobs or hours will be pulled right out from under them. A Gallup survey finds that full 43% of U.S. workers are afraid they're going to have their benefits cut, down just slightly from 46% at the peak of the recession in 2009. Another 31% see a pay cut in their future, which is nearly the same as the 32% from four years earlier. Meanwhile, 29% are worried that they'll be laid off, which is a smaller percentage than the 32% in 2009, but still greater than the 26% who feared getting the fired in 2010.


A not-so-small part of that equation is that the recession left workers more cash-strapped than they would like to be. A full 29% of U.S. workers surveyed by Cigna said they would exhaust their resources in a month or less if they left their job for any reason. A much greater concern 2006, the retail and wholesale sector has cut more than a million full-time jobs and added half a million part-time positions.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago reports that a tepid job market is driving down wages as a great number of part-time employees seek full-time work. Those employees who live in constant fear of losing their current jobs are less inclined to spend as a result. That directly impacts retailers, which are paying their salaries in many cases. However, none of that is reflected in the 6.2% unemployment rate, the headcount of 9.7 million unemployed U.S. workers or the 6.3 million actively seeking work.

No, this is the kind of thing that only crops up in the results of a Salary.com survey that found only 38.5% of Americans felt fulfilled by their jobs, while only 52% said they were totally committed to their work. Only 19.5% put in extra hours because they enjoy their work and 72% are motivated solely by their paycheck.

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