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The Unemployed and the Overworked
A paradox of our times
from The Jobs Letter No.14 / 3 April, 1995
- As unemployment rates stubbornly resist the recovery in Western economies, we are also
seeing the rise of another phenomenon of our time -
a rise in the numbers of people who are
over-worked. It is a strange paradox of our times that
alongside fewer jobs for the unemployed, there are workers now working longer hours than they've done
before. Our researchers and Media Watch are following the trends ...
"For the first time since the middle of the nineteenth century,
we are working more for less money", says Michael Yates, in his recently published book on employment and
unemployment in America. "Very few new entrants into the labour force can count on finding
high-paying secure jobs like the ones our parents had. To keep up their living standards,
many workers have been forced to increase their hours of
work by working overtime, moonlighting, or
sending other members of their family out to work.
Yates believes that "...the cycles of boom and bust and the poles of wealth and
poverty cannot be eliminated unless and until we are willing to contemplate an entirely new
organisation of our production and
Longer Hours, Fewer Jobs, by Michael Yates (1994) published by Cornerstone Books
- The average American is working more hours
just to keep the standard of living they once enjoyed twenty years
ago. The ILO Workplace reports that to reach the same standard
of living as 1973, four out of five Americans need to work 245 more hours each year, the
equivalent of six normal working weeks. The average working week in American industry has climbed
to 41.6 hours in Oct 1993, the highest level since 1968. Author and researcher Juliet Schor
estimates that men in the 1990's perform two and a half more weeks of paid work every
year than they did in the 1970's. Women are working
an additional seven and a half weeks of paid
work than they did twenty years ago.
- Similar trends are appearing in NZ. As we reported previously in the Jobs Letter,
NZ'ers are working longer hours than ever before - a total average of 39.18 hrs a week. This is
the highest figure since Statistics NZ surveys began.
- Where do these extra weeks that we have added to our workload come from ?
American author Dr Susan Albert writes and lectures on the impact of the career culture on people's
personal lives : " These extra working weeks
have been subtracted from the rest of our
lives - from family time, from sleep time, from relaxation time, from time spent working on behalf of
Albert concludes that the "mushrooming of work time" means that
many of us suffer from deficits. "We suffer from sleep deficit, from leisure deficit, from a deficit of spirit, from
a parenting deficit when children are left alone more, from a deficit of friends - have you
noticed what happens when two career people try to maintain a friendship ? "
Finding Our Right Livelihood, by Dr Susan Albert, (series of four audio-tapes)
available from the Centre for Renewing Work, P.O.Drawer M, Bertram Texas 78605.
- The rise in working hours seems to bear little relevance to
the increasing levels of productivity that have occurred in the last 50 years. Since 1948, the level of productivity of the
US worker has more than doubled. But between 1948 and today, American employers
did not use any of the productivity dividend to reduce working hours
for their workers. In lieu of this, the average American now owns and consumes more than twice as much as they did in 1948,
and also has less free time.
Juliet Schor says that , in other words, Americans could now produce their 1948
standard of living in less than half the time it
took in that year : " We actually could have chosen a
four-hour day. Or a working year of six months. Or, every worker in the US could now be taking
every other year off from work - with pay... Incredible as it may sound, this is just the simple
arithmetic of productivity growth in operation. "
The Overworked American, by Juliet Schor (1991) published by Basic Books.
- Workers in America are complaining that the current recovery and economic expansion
is spelling worker exhaustion. Time magazine reports that throughout American industry,
companies are using overtime to wring the most out of their labour force. Their workers are putting in
a average of 10 hours overtime a week and labouring an average of six eight-hour Saturdays a year.
The recovery began in March 1991, and had companies hired at the pace of past
expansions, Time calculates the increase in employment in the US should be now at 8 million jobs.
But new jobs since 1991 only stands at 6 million,
leaving it 2 million short. Companies are
simply not hiring ... and if they are, they are preferring to take on temporary workers.
- Case: General Motors. They have done no significant hiring since 1986. Overtime
is expensive for them, but the combined wage, fringe benefit and training costs of hiring new
workers would be more expensive still.
When GM is forced to add more workers, they have turned to temporary help
agencies. Time : " Once more, the reason is economics : the temps draw only wages, not health
insurance and other expensive fringe benefits, and they can be used and let go as needed without
drawing the unemployment benefits that GM must pay to laid-off regular workers..."
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