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ODU Researcher Says Study Illustrates a Double Squeeze for Workers

By Noell Saunders

American workers are increasingly facing more pressure, unpleasant and potentially hazardous working conditions and unstable work schedules, according to a new survey by RAND Corp., a nonprofit global policy think tank.

Robert McNab, the deputy director of Old Dominion University's Center for Economic Analysis and Policy, said the study shows American workers are facing a double squeeze in terms of job conditions as well as incomes.

"We haven't seen significant rises in income over the last 10 years, but at the same time there's been an increase in demands of productivity," he said.

The survey reported that more than 25 percent of American workers feel they don't have enough time to do their job. In addition, many say the work is so intense that it interferes with their personal lives. About one half say they have to dip into their personal time to meet the demands of their job.

"You have a combination of factors that allows the American worker to be extremely productive, but that productivity comes with a cost," he said. "The cost appears to be workplace stress."

The trend could have detrimental effects on the health of workers, McNab said.

"Americans typically take the lowest number of vacation days amongst developed countries in the world, they tend to stay connected to work for much longer hours than other people around the world and they have fewer workplace protections in terms of paid medical leave, paid family leave and vacation benefits when compared to countries in Europe," McNab said.

On the bright side, despite the challenges, many U.S. workers feel they have some autonomy on the job. Most feel confident that they have the skills to complete a task, and many report that they receive social support at work.

"What we've seen happen over the last decade is that American workers have become more fearful about stability, and they haven't seen greater rewards in terms of income or advancement," McNab said.

McNab believes the drive toward automation and the growing use of contractors pose two major blows to the American workforce.

"When you have an increasing number of disconnected workers from traditional employment, those workers may have greater flexibility in terms of their employment, but they're under greater pressure. Contract work may be unstable, offer fewer workplace protections and lead to lower lifetime earnings. Also, if a worker is doing the same repetitive task every day, it's a possibility that a machine may do the job in the future."

Overall, long-term employment is disappearing from the United States for many reasons, he said.

"At the end of the day, individuals have to realize the workplace of their fathers, mothers and grandparents has changed. The idea that you are going to go to work for a large company for 30 years and retire with a gold watch and a nice pension is over. We are seeing that idea being swept away by globalization and automation."

To read more survey results visit the RAND Corporation website.

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