Message From Corporate America: Work Longer, Harder, Faster

Americans have no guaranteed vacation time, average only 13 days offered per year, and often do not even take these.  This is emblematic of a much larger problem where employees are demanded to give up overtime pay, work more hours per year, and make greater sacrifices to increase productivity to create wealth that will likely never make it into their pockets.

As reported yesterday in America: No Vacation Time For You, in the richest country in the world, there is no right to any vacation time.  Paid annual leave and paid holidays are optional for any employer.  In most other wealthy nations, there are between 20-35 vacation days per year (4-7 weeks). Americans are only offered an average of 13 vacation days per year, which is between half to one quarter those offered in other countries.  Only 57% of American workers take their full vacation time, often fearing losing their jobs or not being able to keep up with their workload.

The vacation problem in the US is just the tip of the iceberg. Although it is illegal in the private sector, many US employers will only pay comp time instead of overtime. Under this scheme, hours in excess of 40 per week are accumulated to use for later time off, in essence a substitute for, or sometimes a supplement to an actual paid vacation. This practice is legal in the public sector, but most employees working for private companies either do not understand the law or fear reprisals if they report the violation.

It should be noted that enforcement of labor laws varies greatly by state. Nevada for instance is what is termed a ‘right to work’ state (sometimes referred to as ‘right to work for less’ or ‘right to fire’ state), and is among 22 like this in the nation. This usually adversely affects wages and worker safety, and makes grievance processes more difficult.

Right across the border in California, labor laws are strongly enforced. Any hours in excess of 8 in a day (or 40 in a week) are paid at a mandatory rate of at least 1.5 times the standard rate (regular overtime). Any hours past 12 in a day or on the 7th day in a row of work must be paid at least twice the normal wage (double time).

Another shady practice often employed by employers is making their workers work off the clock. In other words using pressure to compel workers not record hours they worked. According to Wikipedia:

failing to compensate them for meal periods and rest breaks; failing to pay overtime for travel from shop to work-site and back; not paying overtime for time spent working while traveling; failing to pay overtime for attendance at training, meetings and lectures; failing to compensate for arriving early to perform necessary preparations for work; not paying overtime for time it takes to suit-up or put protective gear on, time waiting to log in, on-call time, or time in security line; forcing employees to work on the weekends without clocking in; or instructing them to report fewer hours than actually worked. A firm might pay 20 hours of overtime per month but to meet their superiors’ deadlines and expectations, employees will have to put in many more hours which do not show up officially

Even beyond worker abuse practices common in the United States, the sheer number of hours worked per year exceeds nearly every other rich country, and very high compared to most countries around the world. The New York Times states, “the typical American worker logging 1,792 hours over the course of the year.” They also provided this chart comparing various OECD countries:

The OECD Observer continues, “Though Koreans easily work the most hours per year in the OECD area, the US is also well above average: in 2005 annual hours worked in the US were 15% higher than the European Union (EU15) average.” They provided this weighted and more focused chart to demonstrate the number of hours worked per year:

It should be noted that there are varying degrees of measurement for the statistics represented in the previous charts. Either way, there has been a deliberate plan to keep Americans working longer hours, as exposed by the NSC 68 document. From Wikipedia:

Beginning in 1950, under the Truman Administration, and continuing with all administrations since, the United States became the first known industrialized nation to explicitly (albeit secretly) and permanently forswear a reduction of working time. Given the military-industrial requirements of the Cold War, the authors of the then secret National Security Council Document 68 proposed the US government undertake a massive permanent national economic expansion that would let it siphon off a part of the economic activity produced to support an ongoing military buildup to contain the Soviet Union.

Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, working time has remained unchanged by subsequent administrations and Congress.

A 2007 C.I.A. estimate of United States labor force participation placed it at approximately 153.1 million individuals. Assuming each individual worked a 1987 average work week of 1949 hours, working time rose from 121 billion man hours per year to 398 billion man hours per year. This represents an actual extension of the working time by 247 percent over the fifty-seven year period. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics states that between 1950 and 2000 the number of individuals in the active labor force grew 227 percent from 62 million to 141 million.

While working their longer hours, Americans have a higher average productivity, a figure derived by dividing the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) by the number of people employed. According to CBS:

Each U.S. worker produces $63,885 of wealth per year, more than their counterparts in all other countries, the International Labor Organization said in its report. Ireland comes in second at $55,986, ahead of Luxembourg, $55,641; Belgium, $55,235; and France, $54,609. The U.S., according to the report, also beats all 27 nations in the European Union, Japan and Switzerland in the amount of wealth created per hour of work – a second key measure of productivity.

This culture of work is meant to create excess wealth. If the wealth that is created by the working men and women of America found its way into their pockets, that would be one thing, but increasing it is not. Since the extension of the Bush tax cuts for the rich, it appears as if the disparity in wealth is only going to be exacerbated, leading to charges that class warfare has been and continues to be waged on the poor and middle class.

As my European friends say, “We don’t live to work, we work to live.”

Americans are already working longer, harder, and faster than most other Western nations. This coupled with not having ample vacation time is symptomatic of a culture that demands ever greater sacrifice without increasing compensation.


23 Responses to Message From Corporate America: Work Longer, Harder, Faster

  1. Stan Greer January 21, 2011 at 6:14 am

    Because they “work to live” instead of “living to work,” the Europeans somehow can’t make enough money to be able to afford to have enough children to replace themselves, and even substantial immigration (which I personally favor) won’t suffice to keep their national populations from shrinking substantially over the next few decades.

    Some would label such disdain for work selfishness, although public policies preventing people from people being properly rewarded for their work are undoubtedly largely, if not primarily, to blame.

    Anyway, I don’t see why Americans should want to live like a people who find, for whatever reason, two or three kids per married couple (necessary for population to remain stable, since not everyone gets married) excessively burdensome.

    Stan Greer

    • Gilbert Mercier
      Gilbert Mercier January 21, 2011 at 6:40 am

      One of our most critical global problem, as matter of fact one of the biggest one with climate change, is overpopulation not underpopulation. At the pace we are going, we are heading off a demographic cliff within 50 years, with major food crisis, unrest etc.

      • David Pike January 21, 2011 at 4:40 pm

        Gilbert, i dont think overpopulation is a problem at all, i have been hearing about it for all of my life and being at forty so far its just worry and conjecture. the same with climate change which used to be global warming, which used to be global cooling, which used to be who knows what else. America is so bad, i guess thats why we have people risking their lives to sneak into this place to work and what not, just like they were sneaking into russia….?? oh my bad maybe it was cuba they were sneaking into…….?? well i am sure one of the other great countries that can lead us out of our barbarism and buffoonery can straighten us out after we collapse from the weight of babies and exhaustion from working to actually pay for our own bills.
        You are however entitled to your opinion and I appreciate you having the courage to put your words out there to be sifted in the public discourse.

        • Ole Ole Olson January 21, 2011 at 7:06 pm

          David, our species is using 90% of the world’s arable land, which is causing massive environmental problems, the 6th Great Extinction event on our planet, and yes, Global Warming/Climate Change (it is a myth science ever claimed global cooling existed in the last 50 years).

          • David Pike January 22, 2011 at 1:22 pm

            i remember books in the bookstore as a child that were preaching the perils of the coming ice age, dont know how scientific that was, but there were books so somebody was going on about it. and it is simply not true your claim of our species using all the arable land, never mind the fact that we kinda need it. i think if the logic is followed all the way down, then those on the environmental side will have to just claim that humanity is the disease and with us gone things will be better. I myself cant go there since I believe that we can do as much good as bad, and I am a creationist anyway so i guess that puts me out of any legitimate debate.

    • Ole Ole Olson January 21, 2011 at 7:37 am

      Stan, poverty breeds a population boom, comfortable living does not. Countries with a high quality of life index often have very low birth rates.

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  3. Michael P January 21, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    a friend sent me this article, but i’m having trouble getting past the first sentence:
    what is meant by “13 days offered per year”? is that supposed to say “13 days off per year”? either i’m misunderstanding this item entirely, or the editors on this site are underscoring the point of the article: they, too, are working longer, harder, faster…

    • Ole Ole Olson January 21, 2011 at 7:08 pm

      An average American is given 13 paid vacation days off per year. It is offered to them. Only 57% actually use all of the time offered to them in the US however.

      Hope that clears it up.

  4. Me January 21, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    Well, I think your assumptions are wrong. If you look at the standard of living, Americans enjoy a higher standard of living than most countries for their pay and time at work. So, Americans /are/ in fact being paid back in kind for their hours worked and their productivity. In stark contrast is Mexico, with a very poor standard of living and working almost as many hours.

    But… In America, as you work through your grunt years and move up and are more productive, you do get more vacation and more pay. If you don’t — you’ve failed — and that’s largely your own fault.

    Interesting as well is the productivity number… Yes, Americans are being forced to do compete head to head with other countries. We better be way the heck more productive than the competition in our global society, or we won’t be able to enjoy our higher than average paychecks!

    That, and I for one enjoy my work. Yes, I’ve worked my way up to 3 weeks of vacation (beyond holidays) per year… and I’ve worked hard for it. I like what I do, and I’m being well paid for it.

    So, enough of this… I’m tired of this attitude of “poor me.” At least in many places in America, if you don’t like your working conditions, you can easily go work for someone else, or you can start your own business. You have the power to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and make something of yourself.

    • not me January 21, 2011 at 6:12 pm

      I would like to know what America you live in because it doesn’t match mine.
      “Well, I think your assumptions are wrong. If you look at the standard of living, Americans enjoy a higher standard of living than most countries…”
      While we do have a better standard of living than Mexico do you also think that our standard of living is so much better than all of those European countries that have so many more days off. Maybe if you measure happiness in the shear number of hours worked then ok, but in my book its all about having time to spend with family and loved ones.
      “But… In America, as you work through your grunt years and move up and are more productive, you do get more vacation and more pay. If you don’t — you’ve failed — and that’s largely your own fault.”
      This comment is off at so many levels its almost hard to determine where to start. First of all blaming someone for not being able to “move up” show just how delusional your thoughts are. Out of college I went to work for a major company and yes, for a while I was working my way up and getting more time of, but guess what, the internet bubble burst and I had to seek “other employment opportunities”. My fault? No. My next job was in the mortgages industry, guess what I had to start all over with “earning my time off again” I am sure even you can tell what happened to that job. My fault? No. So now I am with another company and still “earning my time off” But apparently I should be ok with the fact that I only get one day week off a year because its all my fault.
      “So, enough of this… I’m tired of this attitude of “poor me.” At least in many places in America, if you don’t like your working conditions, you can easily go work for someone else, or you can start your own business. You have the power to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and make something of yourself.”
      Once again, I would like to know the America you are living in. While in my industry we do still have the “luxury” of going to work for another company so many people in the nation cant because they industry they have spent so many “grunt years” earning their time off isn’t hiring and they are thankful they even have a job. As for starting their own business, its not near as simple as you think, and for many people its well beyond their skill sets, not to mention they have absolutely no way to finance it because they have so little of their “higher then average” paychecks left over after paying for their $100,000 dollar education, and either their mortgage on their $350,000 dollar condo that was built in 1945 or their almost $1,500 dollar rent payment for an apartment in a bad part of town.
      Please let me know where your America is because I want to move there.

  5. Cooter January 21, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    Those other countries are evil socialists. Long live billionaires!

  6. Jspot January 21, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    I work nearly as many hours as korea and greece combined, 80hrs x 52 4160. I work holidays(except xmas day and turkey day). You know what? I am happy to have a job and be able to buy whatever I need to for my family.

    • Ole Ole Olson January 21, 2011 at 7:21 pm

      To each their own Jspot, but I have to ask, how much time to you actually have to enjoy with your family?

      168 hours per week
      -80 hours per week working
      -56 hours sleeping (assuming 8 hours per night, the human average)
      ~10 hours commuting
      ~6 hours in the bathroom
      ~10 hours misc

      That wouldn’t leave much time, much less quality time. Further, if you are doing manual labor like many of us do, 16 hour work days mean work, sleep, and eat. No time for shower or any leisure.

      • Jspot January 22, 2011 at 3:55 pm

        I work 7 days a week, not 16 hours a day. I may not have tons of time to spend with my family right now, but as soon as I have everything taken care of I will have all the time in the world. I never said it was the ideal situation but I never have to worry about making sure my children can sleep in a warm bed and eat every meal. Plus, I’m sure my children will appreciate being able to go to college without putting themselves in debt for the rest of their lives.

        If there is a need to attack anything it should be the crooks that run our universities. As soon as the government assistance was increased to go to college tuition doubled at many schools to the max the government would pay for. You get the same educations for twice the cost to the government and tax payers. Multi-trillion dollar debt much?

  7. Kevin January 21, 2011 at 9:45 pm

    “(The) sheer number of hours worked per year (by Americans) exceeds nearly every other rich country..”

    ‘(In these other rich countries) there are between 4-7 vacation weeks per year. Americans are only offered an average of 13 days.’

    ” ***Lazy, welfare mongering Americans. You would be succeeding if you really wanted to be productive!***”

    ^ ^ Americans still listen/believe/put up with this? ^ ^

  8. Mark January 21, 2011 at 9:46 pm

    Just think, your grandfather worked hard so that we could now have an America where corporations export all the jobs to countries where the the people work even longer and make even less money.

  9. Nicole January 21, 2011 at 9:47 pm

    They’re just “warming up the motor” (so to speak) on the real conversion to a 3rd world America…as long as their private islands in Dubai aren’t still collapsing into the sea, that is.

    You all realize that’s what’s coming next, right? Anyone who stays all becomes the “lower class” while the ivory towers get moved to a “safer” locale…some of you will get to actually see where the right…err, rich will be living, too, as all that luggage won’t carry itself.

  10. Tiera January 21, 2011 at 9:47 pm

    I have come to the inescapable conclusion that this is because most Americans are stupid, for what other reason would they want to work so hard for little or no gain. Apparently the meaning of life is to aspire to mindlessly worship at the temple of capitalism.

    • Jspot January 22, 2011 at 3:58 pm

      Actually it is the unquestionable love for our children to become more than shoemakers and drink piss water in a third world hell hole. Anti-American ignorance is unbecoming of anyone.

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  12. SaltMineTV January 24, 2011 at 9:54 pm

    I don’t know where they get their numbers. Certainly not from TV people. I freelance now but when I was at a major network, I averaged 72.5 hours a week for 10 years.
    Had a quite a few 100+ hour weeks and many 20 hour days. My biggest regret for all that time is not spending more time with my kids. Even after a divorce and half-time single parenting, I still averaged 56 hours a week. Looking back, I don’t know how I did it. No balance. No life. Just work. Eat. Sleep. Work again. Two weeks vacation IF you could squeeze it in between projects. No time to be sick.
    I’ll never go back to that grind. But wouldn’t six weeks off with pay be sweet?

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