The Pessimists: Some U.S. Workers See the Glass as Half Empty

By Sean Leslie

Even though the majority of U.S. workers are optimistic about their employer's future—roughly 60 percent—there's still a fraction of us who don't share that confidence. According to 425,219 U.S. workers polled by PayScale between June 15, 2014 and June 15, 2016, almost 17 percent of U.S. workers are pessimistic about the future of their employers, about one in five. And a quarter of all U.S. workers—24.3 percent—feel uncertain about the same subject.

Though the numbers differ depending on location, industry and job type, there are plenty of reasons workers might possess a bleak professional and economic outlook; an economy still recovering from the Great Recession, fears of terrorism and global pandemics, and national and international political turmoil. With those in mind, PayScale dove into the data to find out which industries, job types and states see the glass as half empty when it comes to the future of their employers.

William Authur Ward
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Among industries, workers in Retail Trade reported being the most doubtful when it came to the future of their employers, with 8.2 percent of respondents feeling strongly pessimistic. Most workers in Retail Trade work on the rapidly shrinking "brick-and-mortar" side, in real-life, physical stores, as opposed to the growing digital side of the industry, which includes e-commerce giants like And as Amazon and its e-commerce competitors continue to eat up market share from physical storefronts, it makes sense that about one in 10 Retail employees feels pessimistic about the future of their slumping industry. In addition, recent research by Bank of America found that Americans are spending less on material goods in general, yet another reason for Retail workers to fret.

Coming in just behind the Retail Trade industry on the "glass is half empty" end of the chart, 8.1 percent of Accommodation and Food Service workers reported feeling strongly pessimistic about their employer's future. Though hiring in this sector is on the rise, jobs in Accommodation and Food Service typically pay toward the low end of the income scale, which could impact employee sentiment. Still, the same Bank of America study that found Americans are spending less on material goods also found we're spending more on vacationing and going out to eat. So maybe there's more for Accommodation and Food Service workers to look forward to.

Helen Keller
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When it comes to job titles, Laundry and Dry Cleaning workers reported the highest level of pessimism regarding the future of their employers, by far: 32.6 percent. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the opportunity for employment in the Laundry and Dry Cleaning industry is projected to grow about two percent between 2014 and 2024, less than the average overall growth projected for the economy. Additionally, according to the BLS, the median annual wage for Laundry and Dry Cleaning workers is $20,820, much less than half the national median of $50,900, perhaps reason enough for a pessimistic outlook.

Dietetic Technicians came in as the second-most highly pessimistic workers, at 23.4 percent. Though the opportunity for employment as a Dietetic Technician is expected to grow more than 13 percent between 2014 and 2024, the mean annual wage is $26,040, about half the national median. Potentially, the pessimism reported here could be a result of the low annual salary, as opposed to future prospects.

Oscar Wilde
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Geographically, workers in my home state of New Jersey topped the list of U.S. workers most pessimistic about their employer's future. (For once, we're number one!) Some of the Garden State's biggest industries include Biopharmaceuticals—one-sixth of all pharmaceuticals manufactured in the U.S. are made in New Jersey—Transportation, Manufacturing, Healthcare and Technology, all of which are growing. So why the pessimism? Perhaps because the economy of the state itself is a bit of a mess, with its economy lagging behind the national pace in recovering from the Great Recession, and wages rising more slowly than elsewhere to boot. Also, despite the fact New Jersey residents are among the most heavily taxed in the nation, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vetoed a 2013 bill that would have raised the state's minimum wage, another potential reason many New Jersey workers are feeling blue.

Wyoming and West Virginia follow New Jersey as the number two and three states with the highest percentage of employees reporting pessimism in their employer's future. Though they're separated by about 1,500 miles, the main industry of each of these states is Mining, an industry that has lost a staggering 73 percent of its value since 2011. With new environmental restrictions on fossil-fuel power generation and on the mining process itself, and with commodities prices trending lower due to a glut of available materials, there are several reasons for employees of the Cowboy State and the Mountain State to feel down about the prospects of their employers.

Despite the fact there are a few dark spots in this worker-optimism report, the major takeaway should be that the majority of American workers feel optimistic about the future of their employers, a statistic that aligns with American's high level of optimism when compared to other countries. It would seem that though we're weathering an economy that's still recovering from the Great Recession, we're a nation of workers who tend to see the sunshine through the rain.