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HolidayBuyer's Guide

Poor knowledge workers?

Are so-called knowledge workers hurting in the pocketbook?

Blogger and consultant Richard Samson suspects that many people who make a living with their noggins are struggling these days and is taking a straw poll to learn more about the issue.

"According to a report on the working poor issued in 2002 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, college graduates account for only about 1.4 percent of the 30-plus million Americans below the poverty line.

That's only about half a million people," Samson said in a posting last week. "But I suspect the actual number is much higher, because in my experience, low-earning college grads don't readily self-identify."

His poll asks computer programmers, writers, designers and the like to declare themselves as poor (not earning enough to pay the bills); middle (earning enough to get by); or rich (earning enough to save and splurge).

Of 112 responses so far, 32 called themselves poor, 49 said middle and 32 as rich.

Samson's broader argument about labor trends is that automation is replacing many jobs--possibly contributing to well-educated people having a hard time making ends meet.

Samson may be hitting on something when he suggests that highly educated professionals are loath to admit distress out of pride or the need to seem in demand.

"Unlike blue-collar workers who may declare themselves 'unemployed,' the knowledge workers I know shun that appellation," he writes. "They're never 'unemployed.' They're 'contractors' seeking gigs, or 'business owners' seeking clients. If a job comes their way, great, but in the meantime, they're 'working.' In a real sense, they are working, because they're trying to provide a service in exchange for money; but they're 'working poor' trying to survive, just like displaced factory workers."