Sunday, June 21, 2015
The job and a half problem
To get by these days too many people are working crazy long hours. Some have a full time job and work an additional 20 – 30 hours a week. Others have to string together a lot of part time jobs together to make one living wage. I talked to one lady recently who was working 8 part time jobs.
The inability to make a living with a normal 40 hour job is taking its toll on society. Life used to be more than just work. People had hobbies, spent time with family, participated in social activities, engaged in the political arena, and did charitable work. On a personal level I saw it in the fire service. Our department had both full and on-call firefighters. When the good local jobs went away, so did the volunteers. They couldn't afford the time to contribute to the safety of their community.
Once there was time for people to think -big blocks of uninterrupted time with no e-mail and cell phones to break one's concentration. That level of peace and quiet is so rare today that it's considered strange and weird behavior. Forget about saying you are taking time to nurture your spiritual life. That's too radical.
When two people are working 60 hour weeks, they are basically doing the full time work of a third person. That's great for business, not much good for anyone else.
It's going to get worse. Business likes getting a worker and half for every worker, but there is something they like even better -no workers. More and more jobs are being automated. That way all the profit from the robot's labor goes back to the owner. That's a huge incentive. People's wages can only be reduced so far. When they can't make enough money to live on it's not worth going to work.
There are good arguments for everyone to have a basic guaranteed income. If all manufacturing is being done by machines and without paid workers, who's going to buy those products? A guaranteed income would allow people to live. Of course, most would want to do some sort of work. Imagine the creativity that could be unleashed if people had the time to explore their ideas and not worry about starving to death.
Maybe a fair number of people would do absolutely nothing but drink beer all day. So what? There are plenty of people who do that now.
We have some anecdotal information about places that pay a living minimum wage. Some people keep working all those crazy hours but now they can save to buy a house. Others cut back on their hours to spend more time with their families. A few people return to doing art. Some find they have the time to go to college. Those are all good outcomes. Life is richer and more interesting.
Unbridled Capitalism is very good at concentrating wealth at the top. That never ends well in the long run. Problems arise when the good of the citizens are no longer considered.