After World War II, there was a golden era when Americans, especially those that had an education, could expect to have a job and keep it until retirement and retire with an adequate pension.
Those days, which Allison Pugh, professor of Sociology at University of Virginia, refers to as the “20-year career and a gold watch” model, are over. Between a competitive global market, recession and job automation, and a switch to part-time and contingent workers, Americans now live in a culture of perpetual job insecurity, in which they are easily laid off, at both high and low-level jobs, and can expect to switch jobs, or locations, at least a half dozen times during their careers.
Last year, Hewlett-Packard eliminated 34,000 jobs, and JC Penney and Sprint announced cuts, while JP Morgan Chase has cut 20,000 from its workforce since 2011. In double-earner families, at least one parent reports feeling “insecure” about their job, and in almost half of those both think their job is insecure.
This dynamic creates a constant tension for workers, who are beset by uncertainty. It has bred what Pugh calls the “one-way honor system,” in which workers are beholden to employers, but employers are not, says Pugh, author of “The Tumbleweed Society: Working and Caring in an Age of Insecurity,” out earlier this year.