Dear Friends-

What’s one of the most popular topics to complain about around the office water cooler? If your experience is anything like mine, it’s work itself.

However, while “I-hate-my-job” may be a common whine among your co-workers, when the topic comes up in private, such as during a telephone poll, it turns out that most of us actually like our jobs. In other words, the water-cooler grousing is just show, or maybe a desire to go along with the crowd.

A Gallup poll taken just before Labor Day '05 found that 87 percent of adults working in the private sector either “liked” or “loved” their jobs. A more recent survey just completed on behalf of snagajob.com, a Web site dedicated to helping hourly workers find jobs, confirms this and adds a few new twists.

Nationwide, the snagajob.com survey found that, overall, 3 out of 5 workers are happy with their jobs. A closer look, however, reveals that most are actually extremely happy with work, most meaning 68 percent of salaried and 55 percent of hourly workers. (Salaried workers also spend more time on the job per week — 44.3 hours versus 39.5 for hourly workers.)

Geography plays a role in job satisfaction. Workers who live in the western part of the country, which includes states on the coast as well as in the mountain region, are the happiest. Those in the Northeast are the most disgruntled, but then again, New Yorkers have raised complaining to and art form. (No emails, please, I’m a New Yorker!)

Snagajob.com CEO Shawn Boyer doesn’t have any scientific data as to the reason for these different attitudes. He hypothesizes that folks who live out west “tend to be more outdoor-sy. They have a more balanced lifestyle. They go to the beaches, the mountains.” (Hey, isn’t “The Mall” a destination?) Translation: there’s more to life than work.

In contrast, says Boyer, the attitude of employees in the Northeast is more along the lines of “work comes first, nose-to-the-grindstone.”

Perhaps more surprising is the fact, in addition to living out west, the most content employees are married and overwhelmingly Hispanic.

According to Boyer, “Based on communications we have with employers, Hispanics tend to refer their family and friends to their workplace, which potentially may have an impact.” This turns the workplace into an extended family gathering where you can share experiences and conversation with those who are already familiar to you. (Of course, as a New Yorker it’s my duty to point out that this is only a positive factor if you actually like your family.)

Although many people equate “hourly job” with “just-doing-this-until-I-can-get-a-real-job,” more than half (56 percent) of those who get paid by the hour consider their job their full-time career. This is more common among men than women, and significantly higher in the Midwest, where 2/3rds of hourly workers describe their job as a “career.”

It also turns out that many hourly workers earn more than a burger-flipping wage. Among those who consider their jobs a “career,” more than 40 percent have household incomes in excess of $50,000.

Both salaried and hourly workers agree that the most important benefit an employer can provide is health insurance. The second most valuable benefit is a retirement plan.

As of July, the unemployment rate in this country is running at an annual rate of 4.6 percent. That compares to an average of 5.8 percent over the last 25 years and 5.5 percent over the past twenty.

When you consider other countries with developed economies, only Japan, at 3.8 percent, has a lower unemployment rate than the United States. The unemployment rate in France and Germany is 8.8 percent (but, hey, that’s better than where it was a few years ago), Britain’s rate is 5.4 percent, and Canada’s is 5.2 percent.

Aside form the obvious reason (that a low unemployment rate means that more people who want jobs have one), there’s a direct tie-in to the strength of our economy. Because it represents about 70 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), consumer spending is the underpinning or driving force for the economy.

Clearly, when more people have jobs, they can afford to buy more stuff. As a result, companies gear up to provide even more stuff by hiring more people, which creates jobs, which create income, which creates consumer spending ...

Keep this in mind when you’re listening to the current cast of presidential wannabes.

I hope you had a happy Labor Day!
Gail

If you have a question for Gail Buckner and the Your $ Matters column, send them to: yourmoneymatters@gmail.com, along with your name and phone number.