It was a brutal decade for American workers, and they are getting grumpy about it.

A survey released Tuesday by the American Conference Board found the lowest level of job satisfaction since surveying began on the issue 22 years ago. Last year, 45 percent of working Americans said they were satisfied with their jobs, compared to 61 percent in 1987.

The worst economic downturn in 60 years has left many people working harder, earning less, having fewer opportunities to get ahead and feeling sour about it all.

And the crash of 2009 was simply the capstone to a rough decade. Private sector employment barely grew between 2000 and 2009, and real wage growth was non-existent.

Part of the problem could be simple cubicle boredom.  In 2009, 51 percent of workers found their jobs interesting compared to nearly 70 percent who thought so in 1987.

Of course, earning more money can offset some of the unpleasantries of work. During the 1980s and 1990s, average household incomes were gradually increasing. That trend dead-ended in 2001 and real family income has been shrinking ever since.

U.S. workers are getting nicked in a variety of other ways. Compared to 1980, three times as many workers now contribute to the cost of their health insurance. The average employee health care contribution went from $48 per month in 1999 to $76 in 2006.

Today, more workers are simply worried about having jobs. In 2008, 47 percent of workers felt securely employed, whereas in 1987 about 59 percent felt so.

The sagging rate of job satisfaction should worry us all, particularly employers. Unhappy workers are less productive, less loyal, less innovative and often treat customers badly. 

These workers will also express themselves at the polls. Another recent survey found that 61 percent of Americans think the U.S. is in decline, and only 27 percent feel their children will be better off than they are. Those are people ripe for rebellion.

According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, voters were asked if they would vote for a Democrat, Republican or tea party candidate if a presidential election were held today. The generic tea party candidate won the straw vote with 33 percent. A Democrat came in second with 25 percent, a nameless Republican drew 12 percent and 30 percent were undecided.

While President Barack Obama had no hand in creating increasing worker dissatisfaction, he and his party are likely to pay a political price for it in 2010 and 2012. Increasingly unhappy workers have spent the first year of his administration either standing in unemployment lines or worried about doing so, all the while watching Wall Street brokers and bankers get bailouts and bonus checks.

American workers are in a bitter mood, and that’s likely to mean an “out-with-the-bums” attitude in this year’s mid-term elections.

[email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.