by Terry Plotkin
The biggest price we are asked to pay is the time devoted to our jobs. In this land, the great and powerful USA, land of prosperity, of opportunity, of dreams, we have a new claim to being Number One in the developed world: the length of the workweek. We had to pass Japan to claim the title. Can you picture the pep rallies at factories and offices? Delirious workers chanting; Were Number One, were Number One! while waving their index finger in the air. The spontaneous demonstration would be short. They have to get right back to work. Besides, theyre too tired to keep it up for very long. Too many suffer from insomnia, others are too busy to take time for sleep. These days, most of us sleep at least two hours less per night than our forebears. Approximately a third of the workers (this number is rising quickly) will be too out of breath to dance around for long because theyre carrying way too much weightwhich is uncomfortable and literally dangerous to the health. The workweek may be longer but the pay we receive is lower in real dollars than it was in 1970. When you study economics, you learn that wages increases are a result, in large part, of increases in worker productivity. With the advent of computers and the other technological changes, weve had a staggering increase in the amount of productivity since the 1970s.
What happened to all the money and prosperity? Like the animals of George Orwells, Animal Farm, we rise earlier and earlier to go to work but our condition deteriorates. The animals worked hard for the glory of the revolution, inspired by their leaders, the pigs, but we get up early for the glory of the American dream. That dream is turning nightmarish, as it increasingly demands more of us to attain it. Much of what we used to take for granted is being stripped away: taken by the cream skimmers. We struggle to sustain the dream but it will not satisfy our souls for very long. If this dream is all about attaining more and bigger and better possessions, then perhaps it is time to dream differently. Some dreams are best forgotten completely.
In the mid-1970s, before economics became my major, leisure studies and services was my major. The main point behind the thinking in this field was that we were about to enter the age of leisure. The workweek would surely shorten and we, as professionals, had to help people learn to use the resulting free time in a positive way. Something happened on the way to this utopia, and ever since, the amount of time at work has been steadily increasing. Not only are we at our jobs longer, but as women entered the wage world en masse to prop up the dream of the good life, no one was left at home to carry the load of all that it takes to run a household. That work must be done during nights and weekends when we used to relax. The adage that a man may work from sun to sun but a womens work is never done has to be amended. Now no ones work is ever done, no time is left to enjoy the sun.