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Poll says workers feel forsaken by companies

U.S. workers are feeling betrayed.

Even after a long run of prosperity and peace, they believe they are being left out, sharing neither in the nation's wealth nor the success of their companies.

They are anxious about the future, especially for their children.

Companies no longer are loyal to their workers, they believe. The boss makes sure that profits continue at all costs and that his pay goes up. But as for his employees, well, there is always the door.

This feeling of abandonment is one of the major findings of a national poll by Brown University. Almost 70 percent of those surveyed said companies are less loyal to workers than was the case a decade ago. Nearly 60 percent felt workers aren't sharing in the success and profits of their companies.

"There's a lot of concern that companies have rewritten the social contract with workers, that chief executives are getting richer and laying off workers at the same time," said the poll's supervisor, Darrell M. West, a political science professor and director of Brown University's John Hazen White Sr. Public Opinion Laboratory.

What is surprising, West said, is that this follows an extended period of prosperity, in which those polled concede that, in fact, their own circumstances are stable, if not better.

Years of massive corporate layoffs, of factories moving to other states or overseas, of often-stagnant wages while executive pay shoots up, have taken a big psychological toll on workers, he said. "People are feeling unappreciated and unrewarded," West said.

Poll participant Elizabeth Ludvick, 38, of Lynn, Mass., said she believes companies are less loyal to workers _ an opinion she came to after hard personal experience.

A theologian with a master's degree, she moved to Massachusetts two years ago from the Midwest hoping to further her education, but found it difficult to get a job with good pay, much less to continue her studies.

Right now, she's a mover _ packing household goods and lugging them out to a moving van. She's not afraid of heavy lifting, having grown up on a farm. But she's only able to make ends meet with her $9-an-hour job.

"Companies are less loyal to their employees in trying to come to some kind of mutual understanding, working in collaboration with what's good for employees, not just fair wages, but what's expected of hours," Ludvick said.

Her previous job was at a nursery, where she earned $8 an hour, working 60 to 65 hours a week. Promoted to a management job, she asked for a $2-an-hour raise. Told no, she quit.

The poll of 603 adults, picked at random across the United States, was conducted Feb. 18-25. Here are some findings:

+ People said jobs and unemployment led the list of the country's problems, although government and not business was held responsible.

+ Sixty-eight percent said companies are less loyal to their employees than they were 10 years ago. Nearly 60 percent said that employees also are less loyal.

+ Those polled said their own circumstances were sound. Almost half said pay had gone up in the past year, while only 6 percent said they were unemployed, close to the national unemployment rate.

+ Asked if workers are sharing in company profits, 58 percent said no. Have they benefited from a robust U.S. economy? About 47 percent said no.

+ About 66 percent said young adults grabbing for the first rung of the economic ladder will face more obstacles to success and more competition in their careers.

The poll produced two optimistic responses.

The booming stock market will keep booming, many predicted. Further, they gave President Clinton and congressional leaders credit for understanding the country's most pressing economic problems: Sixty-six percent said leaders know what is going on.

But lest someone conclude that U.S. citizens have gone soft on politicians, when asked whether Clinton and Congress will solve problems, 46 percent said no.

But the poll sends mixed signals. About 59 percent said they pay too much in income taxes. But almost 90 percent said Social Security spending (which is 23 percent of the federal budget) should stay the same or be increased.

"It kind of shows why our political system has been paralyzed on some of these issues," West says. "There's a real dichotomy between people on the one hand not wanting to pay higher taxes, but expecting better services."