BOSTON — By most measures, the United States economy enjoys the best of all worlds, with inflation and unemployment near record lows and output and productivity growing nicely.
Yet the nation's employees remain anxious and disaffected, reports Carl Van Horn, a political economist at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J.
Some 87 percent of Americans are worried about job security. The wave of corporate downsizing and mergers and acquisitions, even at the biggest, most-renowned companies, has left employees feeling vulnerable to economic harm.
"It is the randomness to losing your job, and then suffering economic losses," says Mr. Van Horn, director of the Center for Workforce Development. "There is a feeling that nothing much can be done about it, no matter how hard you work."
His conclusions arise from a survey his center and the Center for Survey Research and Analysis at the University of Connecticut took in mid-August of 1,000 working or unemployed adult Americans.
The survey found, moreover, that the layoffs have badly damaged employees' regard for their employers. Only 27 percent "strongly agree" that their company or organization feels loyal toward them. Only 36 percent of workers "strongly agree" that their immediate managers or supervisors feel a sense of loyalty to them.
Yet 49 percent of these workers "strongly agree" that they feel a sense of loyalty to the company or organization they work for; 45 percent feel loyal to their bosses.
And Americans basically love their jobs.
Nine in 10 workers report being "satisfied" with their current jobs. Some 55 percent are "very satisfied." And 45 percent say they are more satisfied than they were a year ago. Only 16 percent report being less satisfied.
"This says a lot about the amount of meaning people put into their work, the satisfaction they get from their jobs," says Van Horn.
Americans also like their co-workers. Ninety-two percent are "very satisfied" or "somewhat satisfied" with these relationships. They even approve of their supervisors and they don't mind their commute to work (both 86 percent).
But not all is hunky-dory at work.
One in 5 American workers believes that working hard will not guarantee them a job until retirement.
Many of those laid off find it difficult to find a new job that pays as well. So one in 4 sees today as a bad time to find a good job.
They are least satisfied with their annual income, their expected retirement age, their retirement and pension plans, and opportunities for advancement at work.
Such sentiments don't mean a downgrading of Americans' respect for capitalism. "Capitalism is one of the 'givens,'" Van Horn says.
But the insecurity of workers does give an opening to the Democrats at election time.
Forty-one percent of workers say Democrats do a better job of handling issues related to jobs; only 27 percent say that of Republicans.
Fifty-four percent maintain President Clinton is doing a good or excellent job in handling the employment situation. Only 9 percent say he's doing a poor job, 28 percent a fair job.
The role most Americans see for government may partly explain this Democratic bias.
Most Americans (91 percent) think government should require employers to pay for health and Medicare benefits. Ninety percent figure the government should require employers to pay for retirement and pension benefits. Seventy-seven percent regard it as important to require employers to give more advance notice to people losing their jobs.
Most Americans, especially the less educated, want the government to provide information on available jobs and to provide financial assistance for skills training, basic education, and college.
One in 3 has received such financial assistance, and most of them found it helpful.
Will the Democrats in Congress take advantage of these views?
Van Horn doubts it. He sees them as too divided between populists and conservatives to rally around the jobs issue.