Job insecurity: the American worker's reality

By Richard Barrington

For the MoneyRates.com

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 5 2014 1:00 a.m. MST

Americans see themselves facing a workplace reality of low wages and shaky job security. Workers also seem to be resigning themselves to this environment, as most plan on keeping their current jobs if they can.

James Woodson, Getty Images

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Editor's note: This article originally ran on MoneyRates.com. It has been reprinted here with permission.

Welcome to the era of low expectations.

While the U.S. economy showed some signs of improvement last year, many American workers are not feeling these improvements when it comes to their careers, according to a new poll conducted by Op4G for MoneyRates.com.

The results indicate that Americans see themselves facing a workplace reality of low wages and shaky job security. Workers also seem to be resigning themselves to this environment, as most plan on keeping their current jobs if they can.

Of the challenges for today's workers, the MoneyRates.com poll asked more than 1,200 adult Americans about compensation and job security issues. Here are some of the major trends that emerged from the responses:

  1. Raises were low last year, and will probably be low this year. Most Americans (56.25 percent) got by with the same or lower wages in 2013 as in 2012, including the 11.72 percent of respondents who reported taking a pay cut. In fact, Americans last year were about three times as likely to take a pay cut as they were to enjoy a raise of more than 10 percent. The poll suggests little improvement ahead in 2014, with 50.11 percent of respondents expecting their wages to be the same or lower this year.
  2. A significant portion of the workforce suffers from job insecurity. What is worse than taking a pay cut? Losing your job altogether, which nearly a quarter of respondents feel has a significant chance (greater than 10 percent probability) of happening to them. Less than 40 percent of Americans feel highly confident in their job security, with that portion of respondents feeling they have less than 1 percent probability of losing their jobs this year.
  3. They may not like the wages, but most people are determined to hang onto their jobs. The pay may not be much, but people are beginning to understand that they cannot take getting a new job for granted. More than half of poll respondents (55.39 percent) put their likelihood of quitting their jobs in 2014 at less than 1 percent. Only 3.3 percent of respondents believe they will probably quit their jobs this year. In a period of higher pay increases, you could chalk this up to job satisfaction, but under the circumstances, it seems more likely the result of a perceived lack of opportunity.
For a great many Americans, this economic recovery has not meant a return to prosperity. They are still in survival mode.

Interestingly though, some of the job insecurity people are feeling may be overblown. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, quit rates are routinely running higher than the rate of layoffs and discharges.

How to give yourself a fighting chance

In an environment of meager raises and scarce job security, making smart financial and career decisions becomes especially important. Here are some ways you can fight back:

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