Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Today's Workplace

Life in the workplace today is fairly bleak. The situation has greatly deteriorated since many Baby Boomers entered the job market in the mid 1960s.

Both of my grandfathers were railroad engineers during the early part of the 20th century. With very few exceptions, men in those days worked and women stayed home. Men generally stayed with the same employer until retirement. Large organizations such as railroads paid a good living wage and provided many benefits. Many organized social events like Christmas parties for workers and their families and made efforts to keep them happy. Retirees received a pension and a gold watch or other symbol of appreciation. Employees had value.

By the end of World War II, things were hopping for American workers. It was a time of great economic boom. President Eisenhower oversaw construction of the Interstate Highway System, a network of paved roads to link formerly remote portions of the country. Prosperity brought secure jobs with good benefits, much appreciated during the so-called post-war Baby Boom. Returning GIs bought houses on the GI Bill, schools burst at the seam and consumerism ran wild. Factories churned out goods from light bulbs to refrigerators and automobiles. Those working in factories were assured their hard work would be rewarded with security and pride in the products they made.

It's difficult to watch dramatic depictions of the 1960s and 70s because for the most part, they are accurate. The workplace in those days was indeed filled with bloat. Expense accounts and client-paid meals were commonplace. Although that era may look exaggerated and over dramatized in television or film, many working situations were exactly as shown -- fat cats making plenty of money, joining country clubs and living large.

By the late 1980s, the American economy had begun to slow and jobs were drying up. Harder times meant fewer families needed appliances and new cars. Production slowed and many companies began to turn to overseas production among other cost-saving measures. Manufacturing job which remained were few and far between. The tide had begun to turn.

Our economic structure has undergone change over the years, but I cannot recall any period as dismal as the present. Today's high unemployment was nearly unimaginable a few years ago. I sympathize with any 2012 college graduate who hopes to find a job, let alone one allowing him/her to paying off college loans.

For this current graduate group -- whose future was once so full of possibility -- the immediate future is now frightening. A huge percentage of college grads will remain living with their parents in order to survive on their astonishingly pitiful wages. Many will not even be offered benefits by their employers, many of who are merely trying to stay afloat. They will have no insurance or retirement contributions, at least for the present.

It must be hard to talk to college graduates and offer them any hope. Not only have they spent most of their teen-aged lives working to get into and then out of college, they have amassed large debts which they will be years paying off, if they are lucky.

Perhaps I am wrong about the economic predictions. But the current instability has continued for so long that many have forgotten about the golden years of Christmas bonuses and month-long vacations. Such stories are not fantasy. They really existed and are partially at fault for the bubble which was bound to burst. It seems unlikely that those days of soft living will ever return.

It's too bad that no glimmer of hope remains to soothe today's work force. Workers don't necessarily aspire to move into the corner office. They just aspire to hold a job and be able to pay the bills.

No comments:

Post a Comment