Jewish World Review Oct. 28, 2003 / 2 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764
Spending so much time 'making a living', we don't live
Throughout the downturn of the past few years, economists and
analysts have trumpeted our historic increases in productivity as the
one positive in an otherwise dreary economic environment.
But now that the recovery is in full swing, and the country's jobless
situation has only begun to improve, some are beginning to question
how these productivity gains were achieved and what effects they will
have on the labor force, unemployed workers and the overall
Some economists are predicting that demand shortly will catch up with
productivity, spurring an enormous boom in job growth. Other
economists, like Barry Bluestone, a political economy professor at
Northeastern University, disagree.
Bluestone told me: "We'll be very lucky if we break even or have a little
bit of job growth over the next year. With productivity continuing to
grow at 4% to 5% per year, and the economy growing at best at 3.5%,
that would mean that employment would basically hold steady without
much growth at all."
Although our increasing productivity is due, in large part, to the use of
technology, there is no denying that the people who are lucky enough
to have jobs are simply working more.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, the average American
worker has added 199 hours to a year's work since 1973. Since
companies began shedding jobs during this recent economic downturn,
employees who remained behind are working more in order to avoid
being the next victim of a layoff.
Although higher productivity contributes to our high standard of living
and is a source of national pride for Americans, many workers are
beginning to ask whether we are really so well off.
The United States does have the highest productivity growth per
worker of any nation. But the productivity per hour - a more accurate
measure of efficiency - of some European countries is far superior to
that of the United States. American workers have an output per hour of
$32, well below the $38 per hour in Norway and the $34 per hour in
Belgium. So we may be working longer, but we are not necessarily
working better or smarter.
In too many cases, corporate America is using higher productivity and
greater efficiency as code words for cheaper labor, either using it in
this country or in countries like India, China and the Philippines.
We not only work more hours than nearly any other developed
country, we also have less vacation time. The United States, in fact,
contrary to most European and Asian countries, has no mandatory
standard of vacation leave time.
Only 87% of U.S. companies are now providing paid vacations, down
from 95% in 1999. The American worker takes an average of just 10.2
vacation days per year, while our counterparts in France and Germany
enjoy more than 30.
Joe Robinson, author of "Work to Live: The Guide to Getting a Life,"
calls our standard of living "our standard of nonliving, because we
never have time to actually live our lives." Robinson also says that
problems such as family strain and burnout can be attributed to our
national work practices. (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR. )
Corporate profits are up nearly 21% and Wall Street is expecting
third-quarter GDP growth of more than 5%. As our economy continues
to grow, corporations will shed their reluctance to hire additional staff.
But will they resist reasonable wages with reasonable hours? It's time to
begin questioning the demands on our workforce and to talk straight
about what higher productivity really means to our standard of living.
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