Presidential candidate Jeb Bush said that to fix the economy, Americans need to work longer hours. Unsurprisingly, the statement was met with consternation, laughter, and disbelief by some. Hot on the heels, as it is, of the news that wages are stagnant and some out-of-work Americans have simply given up on finding a job, it should also make us all irate.
(Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore/Wikipedia)
But, first, we need some context, right? Bush’s staff offered clarification to ABC News, saying that Bush was referring to underemployed and part-time workers. It’s great to understand what Bush was saying, but it still doesn’t necessarily make his statement more palatable.
So, why is “work more” not the answer?
It’s an Over-Simplification
It’s easy to say that it’s somehow the fault of the workforce for not pulling the economy out of the depths of recession, underemployment, and the lowest participation rate since the ’70s. After all, then, you can start looking for the lazy scapegoats among us. For those of you who are working those golden 40-plus hours every week, you can feel good that you’re contributing to the economic recovery, and you’re a responsible American. Then, too, you can turn on your fellow Americans, who aren’t “pulling their weight.”
If you’re one of the Americans who are working three part-time jobs, flex work, or any of the myriad of other partial-employment options, you’ve instantly become the focus for all the societal angst and frustration. “If only you’d work harder” – you may have already heard it, or felt that you were judged. The worst part is: you’re trapped in a partial-employment situation, and you may just be desperately seeking a way out.
What About Productivity?
Bush also linked working more with greater productivity (and with the ability to provide for one’s family), according to The Washington Post. To be fair, we should say that every job is different, but claiming that “working more” will instantly mean that you’re more productive runs counter to the weight of statistical and real-life evidence.
Citing evidence from The American Journal of Epidemiology and The Harvard Review in his article in The Atlantic, Philip Sopher says that “with the right scheduling of bursts and rests, workers could get a similar amount of work done over a shorter period of time.”
Part-Time or Underemployed = Welfare Recipient
Working 40 hours should magically entitle you to disposable income, right? At least that’s what Bush said, though he didn’t say it was “magic.” If you work less, your underemployed or part-time status is likened to getting in line, as a government “dependent,” according to Bush.
Yes, there really are jobs that pay more to those part-time workers, as opposed to full-time. There aren’t a huge number (the Bureau of Labor Statistics found 12 out of 194), but professions like computer-systems analyst and therapist are just two examples of part-time gigs that pay more. But, the troubling reality of part-time labor is that most of those jobs pay less.
Also, the number of people working part-time involuntarily is up more than 50 percent (compared to when the recession began). If the choice, then, is between participating at a lower-level (part-time) that doesn’t even pay the rent, or not participating at all (and still not covering bills), it may feel like a lose-lose situation – hopeless.
Working more is not going to solve all that ails our economy, and a statement like that from a candidate for leader of the country only serves to further ostracize those working Americans who are already trying to survive, desperately searching for some fragment of the American dream.
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