Living Your Life In Chapters

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NEW YORK CITY: If one feeling unites Americans during the current holiday season, it is the desire to celebrate the importance of families, continuity and the things they can count on. But this year, even if they are doing well, most Americans are worrying that they do not have a clear picture of what their lives will be like next year, or the year after. A new four-year study of employee attitudes spells out the damage that has been done to the work ethic and the traditional American optimism about building a better future by ten years of downsizing. "People are living their lives in chapters now," said John R. Stanek, chief executive officer of Chicago-based International Survey Research Corp., which surveyed workers at 1,000 corporations employing more than 25,000 people. "Anyone who thinks he's got a job for life has been in a lead mine for the past ten years, or is a Supreme Court Justice." Perhaps most damaging is the gnawing sense that families may not be able to meet longterm financial commitments, such as home mortgages and college tuition. Nearly 30 percent of U.S. workers lost their jobs from 1990 to 1995 due to job cuts or company shutdowns, and the new jobs that most find pay less, include slimmer benefits, and offer little promise of security.

No wonder workers are more worried now than they were just a few years ago. The new survey, the latest to confirm that the disposable worker phenomenon is a long-term shift in the way Americans live and work, found that 46 percent of workers think often about the possibility of being laid off, up from 31 percent four years ago. Some 53 percent worry about the future of their company, while 40 percent don't think their employer values committed, experienced workers. One of the few bright notes in the study: a growing number of workers (42 percent vs. 37 percent four years ago) believe that their companies are doing a good job providing the training that will enable employees to get better jobs. In the new world of work, where Americans must plan to hold a series of jobs requiring different skills, the commitment by American business to train and develop workers is crucial to maintaining not only quality of life, but a high-quality workforce that can compete in the global economy.