Why Americans can't stop working: the poor can't afford to, and the rich are enjoying themselves

Oh yes this. You can now do the work of two people with this new automation… okay… pay me double then since I now do the work of two people. Too bad that never happens.


I think your use of “we” is overly broad there.

I don’t spend extra hours at work because I am in the habit of wasting time, nor do I spend hours at work because I’m lazy. I spend hours at work because I am paid a low hourly rate and food ain’t free.


I don’t disagree that managers have more privilege and they certainly act as agents of the owning classes. But they are also caught on the treadmill. I doubt most enjoy bossing people around so much they want to do it for lots of extra hours when they could be doing something else.

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Too true. I stand corrected.


Why isn’t anyone laying blame squarely where it belongs? The masses. It’s the stupidity, greed, and apathy of the masses that have let it come to this. People expect basic fairness, which is laughable when the top 5% are virtually all psychopaths and sociopaths to one degree or another. Jesus, even voting once ever few years seems to be too much effort for most. As for actually really participating in a democracy, well that just smacks of effort.

I’ve given up on the species. Mankind is doomed sooner rather than later. Bank on it. I’ll be amazed if WW III doesn’t happen within the next century. In fact my prediction is sometime before 2050. Oh well, maybe the bees will have better luck with the planet next time around.

You joined just to say that? Hi welcome to the BBS maybe you would like to post in one of our other fine topics? Or perhaps play a game?


I’m very skeptical that I could achieve the same a standard of living 30-40 years as I have now.

Houses may be more expensive. But my ability to travel, buy unusual food, entertainment, medical care, not to mention all of the technology that didn’t exist back then. Do you really think you’d have a better standard of living then?

So the guy in our office who wants to do a 30 hr week for 75% of the pay, management seems open to that.

[quote=“enso, post:16, topic:71891”]
Do you set the number of hours you work? Do you go “Oh, this week I’d like to work 24 hours but next week, I’d like to work 48?”[/quote]

Up until recently our office was hourly where programmers got to stay in the office as long as they’d like and got paid $X/hr. I think management ended up paying 5-10% overtime, so people did want to work longer for more money.

I didn’t miss the point, I just think that point is wrong. Some things have gotten more expensive, but I think I could easily afford the same or superior food, media, medical care, vacations, as an average working 10-30 years ago.

I think in general we’ve simply decided, rightly or wrongly, that we get more benefit from the additional money from working longer than we do from more non-work time with less money.

No you don’t. The guys at the top destroy the value of enhanced productivity by socking it all away in financial markets. Your $60k a year is nothing in comparison. You might seem to be infinitely wealthy to those in the less developed countries, but what you owe them pales in comparison to the top 0.1 and 0.01% of wealth holders destroying the economic value of their wealth.

At their level of money, to not spend 90% or more of it investing in the global economy is the same as devaluing the global economy. And they never do actually make their money useful, so by existing the ultrawealthy are a drain on any value we might gain from enhanced productivity and wealth generation.


“Factory” workers who make things have to compete with China and Mexico and other parts of the world. Certainly there is a market for higher end goods, but if the American factory is putting goods out as good or a little better, but cost much more due to wages, they aren’t going to be around long.

What wages are and the economy are incredibly complex. It isn’t as simple as “big bad business doesn’t pay people enough”. That is probably true to a degree, it isn’t like anywhere else is a “worker’s paradise”. Ever travel to places where they do have a bit higher wage? Cost of living is higher too. It scales and requires a balance.

I think another issue, honestly, is the increase in welfare etc. Back 80 years ago if a person could work full time and still not pay the bills, they eventually got together with the others and unionized or protested. Now they can be appeased via government programs. So basically I feel they are subsidizing businesses that rely on cheap labor. I personally would rather see higher wages and as a result less reliance on government programs.


Agreed it is a pretty huge psychological deal. I know a lot of self-employed people in the US, and worrying about access to medical insurance tends to eat a lot of their life.

One thing I was surprised to find is the rate of medical related medical bankruptcies is not substantially different between the US and Canada. At least from the statistics, it seems that it’s not the medical expenses that wipe you out, it’s losing your job and not being able to pay your expenses while you’re recovering from a lengthy accident or illness. (Although I have to imagine that a gigantic medical bill makes you sink that much faster.)

One aspect that often gets forgotten is that in the US, if you’re employed, the employer is probably covering a lot of the cost of the insurance. In Canada, the workers are paying it through their taxes. If you’re doing fairly well, you may well be paying for two, three or even four families worth of insurance.

Now, I personally believe this is a far more humane way to approach providing healthcare. But if you are lucky enough to be making say $70-80K, you will likely be paying more (through your taxes) for worse healthcare (well, slightly worse outcomes, but a lot more waiting lists, etc.) There is no free lunch. Someone is has to pay the bills, and if you are doing half-decently (i.e. middle class), then it’s you.

Of course, by providing everyone with econo-health-care, you can keep the prices way down. That one families worth of health-care is, courtesy of mass-buying, fewer tests, restricted healthcare choices, and, of course, waiting lists, is about 1/2 to 2/3 the price makes this much easier to handle. But again, substantially cheaper medical care doesn’t come for free.


I may be missing something here, but socking it away in the stock market is investing in the global economy in the most literal sense possible.

And if I look at the 0.1%, the vast majority is invested. After the first 100 million, there’s probably not a whole lot of extra benefit to consumption. Besides, which multi-billionaire wants to fall behind by not being invested?

And I’ll admit that I find the idea that my obscene wealth is fine, but their even more obscene wealth is terrible just a little too self-serving to be comfortable. I mean objectively speaking, what are the odds that “what I earn + 50%” happens to to be the ethical boundary for being a greed-head.

It’s not like those investment banks are doing much to help power the economy. They tend to just stockpile and trade amongst themselves, rather than actually loan out or invest in new business. If the top 0.1 and 0.01% did more stuff like spend their billions on developing new technologies, investing in infrastructure, and investing in tangible goods, the money they did that with would maintain economic velocity. As it stands there’s trillions of dollars in tax havens and shelters doing nothing but devaluing the worth of people’s work.


Well one factor is that with cost reduction capitalism, people are let go and are not replaced so that the ones that are left have to figure out how to do more with less and the downward spiral continues as the frog boils to death.


You’re right (although I don’t make anything like $60k), it’s just that while you can look at inequality from the perspective of the national 99%, it’s also important to see the advantages we still have over the global 99% who do not have many automatic, unfair advantages that we have. I was agreeing with @tlwest’s comment above rather than saying that people shouldn’t be mad about inequality that’s not in their favour:

We’re competing with workers in many other countries now than Americans were in the post-war years, so it’s not like all of the productivity gains over the past half century have gone to line the pockets of the 0.1% - I may deserve a higher salary, but workers in other countries deserve to be able to afford fridges.

However, I’ve always thought that the mark of a successful country wasn’t that you could become rich, but that you could live well while relatively poor (I mean, you can become very rich in China and Nigeria too). In that way, I’m increasingly unenvious of Americans. On my salary (which was probably less than half of the figure you gave last year), I was fully covered for medical expenses, had a choice of schools for the kids, could afford to put myself through a masters program and travel internationally more than once (incidentally, I pay about $300/month for full medical insurance with no excess). By way of contrast, my in-laws now live with us because they both needed operations that they wouldn’t have been able to afford in the US. Admittedly, they haven’t been very smart with their money over the years (or rather, my FIL hasn’t - he’s just not a businessman and he keeps starting his own business / joining pyramid schemes), but they still deserved better.

Yeah, just paying their taxes would help.


You can’t extrapolate from your own experience to nation/population wide effects though. And the sort of cultural and technological changes your touting as some how making the standard of living universally higher has little to no bearing on whether a worker today make the same, less, or more than a worker doing the exact same job at some point in the past. The linked paper isn’t arguing whether Americans are working more hours. Or whether American wages have stagnated and/or gone down for most segments of society. Or whether productivity has gone up. Those are all established facts. Productivity has gone up, working hours have gone up, and actual pay has stagnated or gone down for the vast majority of Americans. If you’re lucky enough to not get hit with that fine, good for you. This paper (and many, many, many others) is intended to unpack why those things are happening. Its not even the first thing to come to this same conclusion, more and more economic studies spit out the same result every day. The novelty here is in tying it all together with Keynes and trying to figure out why his predictions held almost exactly for so long, and then suddenly didn’t.

That’s the big thing you’re missing. For the vast majority of American workers those extra hours don’t equate to extra pay. There’s no extra money from working longer (for most people). So people are trying to figure our what benefit there is, the “why”, to all those extra hours. For the typical salaried position there is no overtime compensation. But increasingly its expected or required that a salaried worker will work more than 40 hours a week (often much more). However those salaries typically sit at exactly where they were when those jobs only involved 40 hours a week. They never increased to reflect the added hours spent working. For hourly workers overtime is often heavily restricted, or not offered unless its legally required. Personally I haven’t worked an hourly job that offered over time in 10 years. I know a guy who works for a corporate restaurant chain, they legally have to offer overtime. But if you work “unapproved” overtime you get fired, and as a rule they do not approve overtime. As near as I can tell this is entirely legal, and typical in retail and corporate food service these days. These sorts of strategies also see hourly workers being set with hard caps with regards to how many hours they can work. Usually at just below the legal cut offs for offering benefits (for part timers), or paying overtime rates (for full timers). Because wages have stagnated or gone down (despite cost of living going up, inflation and other depressing things) in almost every field that means a second job to make up the difference. Which again basically equates to working more hours for the same salary or to maintain ones economic status.

It seems you’ve managed to avoid experiencing this. And that’s nice. But I’ve experienced this first hand (and still am experiencing it), as have many of my friends and many of my neighbors. I’ve worked a job that required a college degree, and payed a standard salary for the experience level and field, in an office, with benefits, where I handled millions of dollars of billable work. I watched my savings erode. Couldn’t afford to use the health insurance they gave me both because I couldn’t afford the copays, and because I was expected to work too many hours in a week to risk taking the time. I lived in the cheapest, grosses apartment I could find and and it was still difficult to swing. Things got even dodgier when I lost that job (losing jobs was the popular thing to do at the time) and went back to hourly and tipped service work. My ability to travel went from occasionally splurging on a cab to debating whether it was worth the risk of missing my rent to pay subway fair to get to a job interview. I mostly walked. My opportunity to buy unusual food wasn’t so much that as an opportunity to buy food period. And where as my standard of living at the moment is pretty good, its almost entirely dependent on more stable friends and family who were able to help.

So does my anecdote trump your anecdote? Or can we can we go with what the studies of more than one person have been showing for more than a decade?


my cousin worked for four years mostly in Ghana, doing her doctorate and postdoc - if you’re not professor or administrator German academia jobs are low-wage and insecure, but this was enough to give her the status of upper-class rich foreigner in West Africa.


No doubt it’s not an ideal system. In the US, our system’s goal is similar–my dollar as a healthy person with a decent salary should provide care beyond my own family. However, my dollar also needs to provide profits to both the insurer and the care providers, and it should also pay the administrative costs for this very unwieldy system. The end result is that a dollar that provides care for 3 people in Canada probably provides care for 1.5 or 1 in the US. And whether you’re insured or uninsured, major medical costs will bankrupt you in the US.

The other side to this, the side that Republicans cling to, is that in socialized countries, income tax rates hover around the 50% mark. That’s because medical care is included in those tax rates. If you consider health insurance to be part of the income taxes you pay, a self-employed family like mine pays well over 50% in taxes here in the US. Medicaid/Medicare, Social Security, Federal Income Tax, and State Income Tax plus Health Insurance all add up to take away more than half of every dollar I earn.

If we had the benefits of a socialized system (things like guaranteed medical care, free college tuition and/or job training, etc.), I would be fine with paying such a high tax rate. Instead, I believe a lot of that money just sizzles away into nothing. And if my little company fails, it’s possible for my family to starve, because there’s not really a safety net in this country.


That’s interesting. Can you share your source?


[quote=“Mister44, post:70, topic:71891”]
“Factory” workers who make things have to compete with China and Mexico and other parts of the world. [/quote]
True in many industries, but less true for meat-packing. I don’t see a lot of cheap, Chinese bacon on the market.

Um, right, because in the case of the Austin meat packers, they just rolled over when their wages were cut.

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I tried explaining something very similar to someone stoutly for the continuation of the U.S. batshit-insane (and inefficient!) system. I put forth the scenario of someone working two part-time jobs, neither of which nets them coverage, so they have to pay for their own insurance where the monthly premium is 150% of their weekly earnings. Now throw in rent. And food. And medical expenses, because of course there’s a deductible.

Their response? ‘Get a better job.’

The only thing more frustrating than an idiot is a callous one.