How did the economic prosperity of the 1950s affect the workforce?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

If you have a textbook or some type of instructor notes that is supposed to answer this question, I really suggest looking at these elements first because the answers you obtain here might not satisfy the person assessing your work.  My answer would be in this camp.  I think that the economic prosperity drove the conformist vision that dominated American society and its workplace in the 1950s.  From the most elemental point of view, if there is economic progress in any domain, there is a reticence to embrace change.  Why run the risk of stopping economic progress?  This attitude drove much of the 1950s setting.  The idea of not wanting to upset the proverbial apple cart created a workplace where no challenges were taken and where conformity was embraced.  White collar settings featured individuals who dressed and acted similarly and did not do much to threaten the Status Quo, which was seen as highly profitable and representing the pitch of prosperity.  This reduced dialogue to the most basic elements of success or failure, and how to drive profits for a given company.  Blue collar work settings were not animated with talk of unionization or increased profit sharing motives, but rather obtaining a paycheck and making a “good life” for oneself.  The allure of every American being able to obtain a slice of the economically prosperous pie of the time period drove everything.  This caused individuals to essentially silence themselves in the galvanizing pursuit of something that was not meant for everyone to have. Yet, individuals of the time did not realize this.  Economic prosperity ended up creating people who were willing to slice their own vocal chords in exchange for chasing something that might not have existed for them in the first place.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It pretty effectively moved the manufacturing workforce in the United States from the lower classes to the middle class.  The prosperity, along with the fairly recent legalization of unions and collective bargaining, lifted the workforce economically and saw the beginning of benefits, retirement, medical insurance, etc.

In those days, it was possible for people working those jobs to earn a living wage, afford their own modest home, and most importantly, could do so on just one wage, unlike today's largely two-parent workforce.

As pointed out above, I also believe that this prosperity and the gains the workforce experienced created an expectation among workers that they deserved and were entitled to the gains they had made.  Today, almost everyone who works believes that.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The usual story that is told about this is that it did a couple of things.

First, it made the workforce pretty happy -- it made them get along well with their bosses.

Second is the reason for the first.  That is, the workers were happy because the bosses were able to give them (and their unions) really great contracts.  There was little foreign competition and so the companies could afford to pay well and give good benefits.

You can sort of see the impact of this today as companies like the big automakers are having trouble because of the benefits packages that they gave out back in those days when the economy was booming.