Young workers feel the pinch, but have vision for future
By Leo Canty
Published: Thursday, September 17, 2009 12:08 PM EDT
America used to be the land of a brighter future. That may still hold true for those at the top, but a growing population is expressing doubt about their possibilities — those in our workforce who are younger than 35.
In 1999 more than 77 percent of these young workers felt hopeful and confident that over their next five years on the job they would achieve economic and financial goals. The same demographic today dropped 22 points on the hopeful scale. Only 20 percent of that workforce had worries about their prospects 10 years ago. Now, their future is a troubling concern for 41 percent of the group.
That should be a cause of concern for all of us. What will America be like if its youth gives up?
These results come from a Peter D. Hart Research poll initiated by the AFL-CIO and its community affiliate, Working America. Among the findings:
• Young workers are having trouble getting ahead financially.• They are significantly less
covered by health insurance or retirement plans.• Most are earning less than $30,000 a year.
• The majority, 58 percent, don’t have enough savings to pay bills for more than 2 months.
Consequently they are deferring further education, starting families later, and 35 percent of them live at home.
Our nation has been through many waves of worry and discontent. Most of what sparked organized labor’s initiatives to push for better wages, hours, and working conditions arose from the initiative of those who were ready to fight for an opportunity for a better future.The poll showed signs of hope though. Young workers have a clear vision for reinvigorating the economy with job creation. Health care and education are top issues for our future leaders. And, they are highly skeptical of corporate America and blame greedy Wall Street, banks, and corporate CEOs for their stress.
Right now, as everyone is stressed by the economy and asking what the future holds, the national AFL-CIO is ending its convention in Pittsburgh. Unions representing more than 11 million workers mapped an economic recovery strategy that puts people back to work, creates good-paying jobs, guarantees health care, and invests in infrastructure to rebuild programs that have been laid to waste as a consequence of the biggest money grab and subsequent economic failure since the Great Depression.
A key part of the agenda includes boosting union membership. The Employee Free Choice Act will guarantee an employee’s right to choose whether or not to be in a union without being intimidated or harassed by pressure or threats from the boss.Most Americans are in a union — or would like to be in one, if they could. Obviously the unionized group is smaller now, but the people who want a union have a good clue about how much better their middle-class lives would be with a union contract. They have figured out, just like worried young workers, that trusting the boss with your economic future is not the wisest move.
Union workers are: 52 percent more likely to have job-provided health care; almost three times more likely to have recession-proof defined benefit pensions; 50 percent more likely to have paid personal time off and average about 15 days of paid vacation per year than the nonunion workforce. Pay is better for everyone, and women and minorities are less disadvantaged when a fair, inclusive, and responsive collective-bargaining process sets the standardsAll these things used to be in the American dream but are now fading recollections and what younger workers can only wish for.
More people are beginning to see the wisdom in advancing a system where the middle class is rebuilt with unions playing a key role in creating a more secure economic future.AFL-CIO unions are mapping the plan to organize around important social and economic issues. Young workers are becoming engaged in labor, community, and political organizations to move an agenda for a better future.
President Barack Obama, when he addressed the AFL-CIO, said, “When hardworking Americans succeed — that’s when organized labor succeeds. And when organized labor succeeds — that’s when our middle class succeeds. And when our middle class succeeds — that’s when the United States of America succeeds.”
They all get it. All that’s left is to get it done.
Leo Canty a labor and political activist who lives in Windsor.