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Workers Want A High Tech Edge

Economic Trends

Workers Want a High-Tech Edge

Computers lift their aspirations

If a new nationwide survey of more than 1,000 U.S. workers is any indication, plans by Ford Motor Co. and Delta Air Lines to offer their employees computers and Internet access for a nominal monthly fee should prove highly popular. The survey, conducted by Rutgers University's Heldrich Center for Workforce Development and the University of Connecticut's Center for Survey Research & Analysis, found that the majority of workers not only use computers every day but feel that they have improved their lives.

About two-thirds of those surveyed reported that they use computers at their jobs, and 68% reported they have access to at least one computer at home. Altogether, some 81% used computers in the month prior to the survey.

Such usage can be fairly intense. Virtually all workers who use computers boot up at least once a week, and about 85% of this group (more than two-thirds of those surveyed) indicate that they use them at least once a day--in most cases, for at least an hour. Indeed, the survey indicates that working Americans spend an average of three hours of each work day at their monitors.

Of those using a computer at work, the great majority (87%) said they use it for job-related activities, with e-mail, word processing, browsing the Net, and gathering news and information leading the list of applications. Less than 16% indicated that they sometimes use their computers at work for such personal activities as shopping online, paying personal bills, or playing games.

While workers have often felt threatened by technological change in the past, that's clearly not the case today. Some 58% of those queried agreed that computers had changed their lives for the better, compared with 20% who disagreed. Only 7% were worried about losing their jobs because of new technology, and 77% felt that new information technology is good for the economy--with those making less than $40,000 a year actually more enthusiastic than those earning more.

Interestingly, although most workers believe they have the computer skills needed to perform their current jobs, only 23% said they learned to use a computer at work. Moreover, half think they will need more computer skills to achieve their career goals, and 44% do not believe that their employers do a good job in providing them with computer training opportunities.

Such concerns throw light on one curious finding in the survey. Although workers are more secure and more confident about the economy than in past surveys, their job satisfaction has actually declined a bit. The apparent reason, say the researchers, is that the boom has made them eager to reap the potential rewards that they believe the computer revolution offers. Thus, Ford's and Delta's plans to put their employees online could pay big dividends--in both worker satisfaction and productivity.By Gene KoretzReturn to top

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How the Bull Spreads Cheer

Even noninvestors may spend more

If there's any one catalyst that has kept the economy roaring ahead in recent years, it's the so-called wealth effect from the stock market boom. As stocks have vaulted to unprecedented heights, so has household wealth--prompting newly rich consumers to forego saving and spend with abandon.

But the wealth effect may not be so straightforward: At last count, slightly less than half of households held stock in any form, and probably less than a quarter hold very much relative to income. Thus, it seems likely the market is working its magic on consumer spending in less obvious ways.

One such route is suggested by a recent study by economist Maria W. Otoo of the Federal Reserve Board, who uses econometric techniques to examine the well-known tendency of stock prices and consumer sentiment to move in tandem. Not surprisingly, her study indicates that it is changes in stock prices that influence consumer sentiment rather than vice-versa.

The most intriguing aspect of Otoo's findings concerns the reason for this effect. Analyzing the responses of individual consumers to rising stocks in the mid-1990s, she finds no significant difference between the positive reactions of those who don't have stock holdings and those who do. She concludes that a bull market boosts consumer sentiment less because some folks are getting wealthier than because most people regard it as a sign of good times ahead for the economy and their own earnings.

That doesn't mean that there isn't a direct wealth effect on consumer spending. What it does suggest is that the impact of the stock market on consumer sentiment and behavior may be even more pervasive than some people think.By Gene KoretzReturn to top

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