Tuesday, May 28, 2019

America's Sweated Labor

New York’s city council will begin to consider a measure put forward by Mayor Bill de Blasio that would guarantee workers in the city at least 10 days of paid time off per year. The 10 days of paid time off proposed by de Blasio would still be at the bottom of the list among wealthy countries, but it would at least be a step in the right direction.

Countries in the European Union all guarantee workers at least four weeks of paid vacation (it’s a condition of EU membership). Many provide five weeks, in addition to an average of 10 paid holidays. Canada guarantees workers 10 days of paid vacation in addition to nine paid holidays. Even Japan, which has a reputation as being a workaholic country, guarantees workers 10 paid vacation days and 15 paid holidays. 
In the US, it is those at the bottom who are least likely to get paid vacation or holidays on the job. More than 90 percent of workers in the top quartile of the wage distribution get both paid vacation and paid holidays. Just over 50 percent of workers in the bottom quartile get these benefits.
In 1970, the average number of hours people worked in a year in the United States was pretty much typical for wealthy countries. The average worker put in somewhat more time than people in Denmark and the Netherlands, but less than people in France, Finland, and much less than workers in Japan.
However, over the next five decades, the average length of the work year fell sharply in all of these countries, while just edging down by 5.0 percent in the United States. As a result, workers in the United States now put in more time than workers in any other wealthy country, including Japan.
There is a reason that employers were reluctant to agree to more vacation or shorter work years in general. In the United States, health care insurance and pension benefits have been provided primarily by the employer. These are substantial expenses that are viewed by employers as largely per-worker overhead costs. This gave employers a strong incentive to require workers to put in more hours each year rather than allowing for shorter hours and hiring more workers. 

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