Saturday, May 08, 2004

Time to Work Less!

The New York Times reports that "[m]ore than 18,000 household workers -- nannies, cleaners, home health aides -- endure daily trips of 90 minutes or more for jobs paying less than $25,000 a year, according to an analysis of 2000 Census data," many of them immigrants who might have found "manufacturing jobs clustered in a central place like the Garment District [if they had arrived in America before de-industrialization of cities], said Daniel Cornfield, a sociologist at Vanderbilt University who specializes in labor" (Joseph Berger, "4-Hour Trek Across New York for 4 Hours of Work, and $28," May 6, 2004). The article features a Palestinian immigrant woman, Intesar Museitef, who "came to New York from Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank" in 1997 and now "commutes four hours each workday to work just four hours at $7 an hour" (May 6, 2004).

On average, it takes an American worker 24.4 minutes to get to work each day; for New York City residents, the average is 38.4 minutes, the longest commute in the nation (US Census Bureau, "New York Has Longest Commute to Work in Nation, American Community Survey Finds," February 25, 2004). The round trip to and from work each day therefore costs the average American worker 48.8 minutes per day, 244 minutes/4.1 hours per week (assuming 5 workdays), 12688 minutes/8.8 days per year (assuming 52 workweeks)! With such long commutes, even if Americans miraculously succeeded in establishing the 35-hour week, they would hardly see any increase in free time.

As a matter of fact, work hours have been getting longer:
The average workweek now exceeds 40 hours in most industries, and in 10 industries more than 20% of all workers consistently work overtime. Those who do work overtime average 51.8 hours a week.

This trend toward longer work hours runs contrary to the rest of the industrialized world. Americans have less leisure time, less paid vacation, and less sick leave and now work longer hours than even the Japanese, who for many years were the world's most stressed workers.

The problem is especially severe because the total hours worked by the average U.S. household -- not just individual workers -- have increased dramatically, too.

Women are working many more weeks per year and hours per week, on average, than they did 30 or even 10 years ago. Middle-class married couples with children and a head of household between the ages of 25 and 54 now work an average of 98 weeks a year, compared with 78 weeks in 1969. (Ross Eisenbrey, "Just What the Worker Needs -- Longer Days, No Overtime," February 14, 2003)
The Million Worker March, planned for mid-October 2004, lists many important demands in the section of its website titled "Our Demands." Unfortunately, shorter hours with no reduction in pay is not among them.

It's time for us to work less, but how to get a movement for shorter work hours going? On-line resources of the Work Less Party, founded by Tom Walker, may give us some clues.

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