The Overworked American

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

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 fringe benefits and the costs of hiring make it desirable to have a small, permanent workforce rather than a larger one with frequent exit and entry. This cycle explains why overtime work can exist at the same time, or even in the same firm, as substantial unemployment.

Sources for Further Study

The Christian Science Monitor. February 10, 1992, p. 13.

Journal of Economic Literature. XXX, September, 1992, p. 1528.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. January 19, 1992, p. 1.

Monthly Labor Review. CXV, May, 1992, p. 53.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVII, February 2, 1992, p. 1.

The Progressive. LVI, June, 1992, p. 37.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXVIII, November 22, 1991, p. 42.

Utne Reader. LVI, March, 1992, p. 117.

The Wall Street Journal. February 14, 1992, p. A9.

The Washington Post Book World. XXII, March 15, 1992, p. 3.