White collar, blue collar anxious about jobs Work is harder, security elusive

February 23, 1992|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,Staff Writer

From the blue-collar grind of the steel mill to the white-collar world of the office, the message is the same these days in Maryland: Things are tough all over.

That's the common theme among virtually all age groups, races, income levels and occupations in The Sun Poll of 1,210 registered Maryland voters, in which the woes of the economy emerged as the overriding concern.

People such as Gerald Clark Sr., 48, a safety systems worker at Bethlehem Steel, will readily tell you why.

"When I went to work there in 1968, there were more than 30,000 people there. Today there are 6,000 total. Where are all these people going?"

Having survived wave after wave of layoffs, cutbacks and

retrenchments, he never feels completely safe. Nor is work getting easier, nor any more rewarding financially. His raises in recent years always seem to trail the rate of inflation.

"Now I work overtime just to make ends meet, where before if we got an overtime day we'd put it aside and live it up on that."

That translates to shorter, fewer vacations, no more dinners out, and fewer frills for his wife and two sons.

Dorothy Kresslein knows nothing of the steel mill, nor does her husband. She is 59, he is 62 and by now they had expected to be easing into a comfortable retirement in their Ellicott City home.

She would have quit an office job with Howard County, and he would have concluded a career as a purchasing manager for a large corporation.

"We were just rolling along. We had a nice house, a place at the beach. Things look very rosy and you get very complacent," she said. "Then, bingo, overnight it changes completely."

That happened last April, when her husband's company was purchased. His job was on the chopping block.

When he looked for another position, his high salary and age scared away personnel managers just about everywhere he went.

Suddenly they faced the loss of medical insurance. They scrapped plans for an addition to their kitchen, rearranged some investments and scaled back their buying habits. In short, they prepared for economic siege.

Eventually, the company decided to keep a few employees at the local office, and his job was spared, but the Kressleins remain cautious.

Such feelings are common in Maryland, according to the poll, which found widespread anxiety over jobs and the affordability of daily expenses, housing, child care, college, and retirement.

Among blue-collar workers such as Mr. Clark, 32 percent are worried someone in their household will lose a job in the near future. The worry was nearly as great in the homes of white-collar workers such as Mrs. Kresslein and her husband, where 28 percent fear job loss.

Fears of being unable to meet daily expenses were somewhat more pronounced among blue-collar workers -- about 49 percent said they were at least somewhat worried -- although the white-collar total was 38 percent.

Blue-collar workers also reported being worse off than last year in greater numbers -- 40 percent, compared to 7 percent who said they were better off.

For white-collar workers, 31 percent said they were worse off, 16 percent were better off.

Mr. Clark and Mrs. Kresslein sense these anxieties among their co-workers as well.

At her county job, Mrs. Kresslein's co-workers brown bag their lunches to save money, and hardly a conversation goes by that doesn't brush on impending cutbacks or hiring freezes.

Such moves have taken their toll in longer hours and higher stacks of paperwork on everyone's desk, she said. "I heard someone saying today, 'You know, Dotty, that old saying, the harder you work the behinder you get. Well, that's the way I feel.' Everyone's doing more just to keep up."

Mr. Clark, an officer in his union local, hears anxious talk all around the plant.

"Whenever a supervisor says hurry up and finish on a certain project, everyone's reaction is, 'Why, are we going to get laid off when we're finished?' " he said. "Quite a few people you talk to don't know from one day to the next what's going to happen.

"The poor guy who has to work for somebody else for a living is never going to make it. You have to come in and punch your time card, and if you don't like it, your boss is going to say, 'We've got other people who will do your job.' "

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