[lbo-talk] Workers Are on the Job More Hours over the Course of the Year

Yoshie Furuhashi critical.montages at gmail.com
Mon May 14 11:28:00 PDT 2007

On 5/14/07, Doug Henwood <dhenwood at panix.com> wrote:
> On May 14, 2007, at 10:03 AM, Yoshie Furuhashi wrote:
> > Here's a table that presents useful international comparison of annual
> > hours worked: "Table F. Average Annual Hours Actually Worked per
> > Person in Employment,"
> > <http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/53/15/36900060.pdf>. Calculated on this
> > basis, the annual hours worked per person peaked in the mid-1990s in
> > the USA, but US workers probably continue to feel the family time
> > crunch -- especially paucity of paid vacation time spent together --
> > as long as more and more women work for longer and longer hours over
> > the course of the year.
> The OECD figures show annual hours to be lower in 2005 than in 1979.
> The last part of what you write isn't true; female participation
> peaked in 2000, declined in the recession, and has yet to match its
> old peak. And the workweek is just minutes off its all time low, set
> in 2005, since data began in 1964.
> There's no doubt that Americans work more than most other people
> (though the Koreans have us beat by a long shot), and that our
> vacations are scandalously short. But the absolute levels of leisure
> just are nowhere near as short as Juliet Schor would have you believe.

Juliet Schor's The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure (Basic Books) was published in 1992, so when the book came out, it was definitely in keeping with the trend, whether you look at the BLS or the OECD. The trends since then, it seems to me, are results of recession and weak recovery, therefore temporary, not secular, trends, unless women married to high income men do fundamental rethinking about what roles they want to prioritize, how many hours they want to work, etc.

The Americans who are single and have no children probably feel little absolute time crunch, but for many of those who, married or unmarried, have children, as well as many of married men and women, probably do, as more women work, leaving less time for their families. E.g., a couple have two days off each week, but the man has Saturdays and Sundays off, and the woman has Sundays and Mondays off. The couple would feel more time crunch than a couple who both have Saturdays and Sundays off, to say nothing of a couple one of whom does not engage in wage labor at all. The time crunch story in absolute terms is basically the story of women and the impacts of the changes in women's lives on families.

Moreover, many Americans, insecure about their jobs and finances, seem less and less able to take time off, and the companies that do not offer paid vacation at all have increased.*

Such changes must be seen in the context where real wages are still lower than their peaks in the mid-1970s even as productivity went up in the same period. The contrast with Europe, the relative decline of American leisure vis-a-vis European leisure, grew in the same period, for vacations legislation steadily expanded European workers' leisure greatly while American workers, less and less unionized, were left at the mercy of employers:

Although Americans and Europeans initially took

comparable amounts of paid vacation, trends in

vacation time in the U.S. and Europe diverged in

the decades after World War II. In each decade of

the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, vacation time

mandated by law in European countries rose by

an average of one additional week per decade,

while in the U.S. and the United Kingdom vacation

time continued to be determined solely on the

basis of employer policy or private labor union

agreements. By the late 1980s, workers in Finland,

France, Luxembourg, Spain, and Sweden enjoyed

five weeks minimum mandated paid vacation each

year. This divergent trend in vacation legislation is

mirrored in the trends of the amount of vacation taken

in Europe and the U.S. Throughout the postwar years,

vacation time in Europe grew, while growth in vacation

time taken by Americans slowed after the 1970s. This is

reflected in the fact that Organization for Economic

Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimates of

annual hours for the U.S. actually show a slight growth

between 1979 and the late 1990s. (Joseph G. Altonji

and Jennifer Oldham, "Vacation Laws and Annual Work

Hours," Economic Perspectives 3Q, 2003, p. 23, <http://www.chicagofed.org/publications/economicperspectives/2003/3qeppart2.pdf> and <http://www.econ.yale.edu/~jga22/website/research_papers/Vacation%20Laws%20and%20Annual%20Work%20Hours.pdf>)

* <http://alternet.org/workplace/41404/> For U.S. Workers, Vacation Is Vanishing By Mark Ames, Comment Is Free. Posted September 8, 2006.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The reason why August has so little meaning to American workers is because Americans don't take vacations any more. According to a Conference Board poll taken in May, 40% of Americans had no plans to take any sort of summer vacation this year -- the worst showing in the poll's 28 years.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

And the trend has only worsened. By 2003, according to a Boston College study, 26% of America's workers took no vacation time at all. This year, as the Conference Board survey shows, that number looks set to continue rising. Why don't Americans take vacations? For one thing, fewer and fewer companies offer their workers paid time off. In 1998, 5% of America's companies didn't offer paid vacation; by 2003, the figure had risen to 13%. According to the government's Bureau of Labor Statistics, today a full quarter of American workers get no paid vacation time, while another 33% only get a week. -- Yoshie

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