The Overworked American (Magill Book Reviews)
For the past twenty years, the average work year in the United States has increased by nine hours per year, so that American workers now work an average of 320 more hours per year than their European counterparts. This is the statement that has captured the popular mind, making this scholarly treatise (one-third of the book’s pages consist of an appendix, notes, and indexes) a high-volume seller.
Schor notes that her study corrects for the fact that more workers now hold second jobs than previously, accounts for the changing proportion of jobs in various industries, adjusts for business cycles, and uses representative samples. Previous major studies each failed to make at least one of these corrections, she says. In her opening chapter, Schor cites an array of statistics, but it often is difficult to decipher which groups of people she is discussing, as she switches frequently from one to another and rarely gives an adequate definition of a group.
After the initial statistics are presented, the book becomes a treatise on the faults of capitalism. Schor explains the tendency toward greater hours as a natural outcome of a cycle of “work-and-spend,” whereby workers can be enticed to work more hours by higher incomes, use those incomes to buy goods to make their limited leisure time more enjoyable, then become accustomed to those higher incomes, and in fact desire to earn even more. Employers are satisfied with this cycle, as the nature of...
(The entire section is 358 words.)
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The Overworked American (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Computers, cellular phones, fax and copy machines—far from creating more time, modern capitalism’s latest technology has actually intensified the demands of the workplace. That technology creates an expectation as tempting as it is deceptive, namely, that one can and must work faster and thereby accomplish more. A common result is too many commitments and too little time to fulfill them. Indeed, in The Overworked American—a study that is insightful, troubling, and cautiously hopeful all at once—Juliet Schor shows that for many Americans, leisure time is unexpectedly in decline.
To understand this counterintuitive outcome, Schor explores economic history, current labor practices, and conflicting senses of expectation. Her book criticizes capitalism from within. It also concludes with modest notes of hope. Running breathlessly on a treadmill of work-and-spend, we Americans have imprisoned ourselves in what Schor calls a “squirrel cage.” Nevertheless, she says, the treadmill can be slowed; an exit from the cage may be found. The Overworked American suggests how to begin those steps.
Schor faced many problems in writing this book. Not the least of them was that its topic, and certainly its title, might seem out of place in the 1990’s. A book about the underworked if not the unemployed American would arguably have been more timely. As Schor’s book appeared, recession gnawed at the nation’s economy. Everyday news...
(The entire section is 1837 words.)