Labor Day weekend is here.
For many it is a time to mark the waning of summer, as kids go back to school, vacations end, and fall season traditions will shortly begin.
But the Labor Day holiday actually has meaning, arising out of hard-fought labor union struggles in the late 1800s.
One wonders what those early labor activists would have thought about the complexities if the current labor market.
For example, 2 working parent families. Concerns about whether many workers are paid a living wage. Large pay gaps between unskilled workers and managerial and professional workers. Economic and technological changes causing many workers to change jobs repeatedly over their work life. The collapse of many unskilled and low skilled occupations. The increasing use of robotics in manufacturing. Outsourcing many manufacturing and even some tech and service jobs. The effect of large-scale immigration on certain economic sectors. Changes wrought by the information economy in the digital age. The shrinking of labor unions. Massive change in productivity in certain sectors of the economy. Change made possible by logistics heretofore not available. Workers stringing together 2 and 3 part time jobs to make ends meet. The rise of home based employment and tele-commuters. The advent of payroll companies and subcontracted employment. Technological advances that make it possible for some to work anywhere, any time. Changes in how employee benefits are administered. The shift to a service economy.
There’s a lot to ponder.
And clearly there are big winners and losers in the new labor economy.
One thing seems clear. Many of us-whether prospering or not-are spending more time at our jobs.
According to an August 2014 Gallup poll,
“Adults employed full time in the U.S. report working an average of 47 hours per week, almost a full workday longer than what a standard five-day, 9-to-5 schedule entails. In fact, half of all full-time workers indicate they typically work more than 40 hours, and nearly four in 10 say they work at least 50 hours.”
Some of those are worked who are putting in time at multiple employers. Others are just in demanding jobs where much is expected. Some are in jobs where the work could be endless.
In fact, 21% of full time workers surveyed by Gallup worked 50 to 59 hours per week.
18% of full time workers put in 60 or more hours per week.
That would include moi, as well as many of the lawyers, doctors and insurance personnel in the California workers’ comp system. I’m writing this blog post on a Friday night, triaging my time with other tasks and pleasures.
I often get work e-mails from colleagues and defense counsel sent at late hours, or on weekends. Many of the people I know work even on vacations. Spare time is often used to finish work projects or to plan and complete future work commitments that require quiet time.
So the Gallup survey confirms what I see.
Workers on salary (rather than hourly) tended to work the longer hours, as the Gallup survey finds a startling 50% of full -time salaried employees worked 50 or more hours per week.
25% of salaried workers worked 60 hours or more.
The labor activists of the 1800s never envisioned this.
In essence, the pace has quickened for many workers. Much is expected of many of us, as we try to manage our personal lives amid a torrential river of faxes, e-mails, reports, texts, and voice mails. The rewards can be substantial, but the pace can be brutal.
And yet others can not find work, becoming either unemployed or the “discouraged workers” who eventually stop looking.
This is our economy as we head into the middle of the second decade of the millennium. It is part of the malaise in America. Old models of viewing the workforce, and old rhetoric about it, are not working.
Advocates for Labor with a capital L will need to find new ways to capture the attention and enthusiasm of the new worker.
But enough of that for now.
Happy Labor Day to you, whatever you do.
Here is the Gallup Poll on the 47 hour workweek:
Here is an interesting New York Times article “Working Anything But 9 to 5: Scheduling Technology Leaves Low Income Parents With Hours of Chaos”: