Overworked and Underemployed




Works Discussed
in this Essay:


Rebecca Blank, "Are Part-Time Jobs Lousy Jobs?" In Gary Burtless, ed., A Future of Lousy Jobs? The Changing Structure of U.S. Wages (Brookings Institution, 1990).

John E. Bregger and Steven E. Haugen, "BLS Introduces New Range of Alternative Unemployment Measures," Monthly Labor Review, October, 1995.

Polly Callaghan and Heidi Hartmann, Contingent Work: A Chartbook on Part-Time and Temporary Employment (Economic Policy Institute, 1991).

Lawrence Mishel and Jared Bernstein, The State of Working America 1994-95 (M.E. Sharpe, 1994).

John P. Robinson and Ann Bostrom, "The Overestimated Workweek? What Time Diary Measures Suggest," Monthly Labor Review, August, 1994.

Stephen J. Rose, "Declining Job Security and the Professionalization of Opportunity," Research Report No. 95-04, National Commission for Employment Policy, 1995.

Juliet Schor, The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure (Basic Books, 1991).

At least since the 1980s people have said that they work "too
hard"—that they are spending too much time on the job, with
too little left for family, chores, or leisure. In 1991 this frustration
became conventional wisdom thanks to Juliet Schor's best-seller,
The Overworked American, which demonstrated that Americans
worked an average of 163 more hours in 1990 than they had in 1970—or
the equivalent of nearly an extra month of full-time work per
year. According to Schor, men were working two and a half more
weeks per year; women an average of seven and a half more weeks.
These were startling statistics, reversing more than a century
of gradual reduction in working time as society became richer
and more productive. If Americans were working this much longer,
then they were not only overworked by traditional U.S. standards,
they were setting new world records.

But critics challenged Schor's data and pointed to a logical flaw
in her argument. Today, more people work part-time because they
can't find full-time work; more are temping or working as short-term
independent contractors. Job insecurity is rampant, and other
statistics show that the number of weekly hours on the typical
job has actually shrunk steadily since World War II. It seemed
implausible that Americans were simultaneously "overworked"
and "underemployed," thus prompting the question: Were
Schor and all the harried Americans who cheered her book's appearance
wrong?

Not necessarily. It's possible, for instance, that we are mixing
apples and oranges. The number of contingent jobs and average
weekly hours refers to "jobs," not people.

If individuals are moonlighting more—working multiple jobs in
any given week—then the average workweek reported by employers
can still shrink while the average workweek reported by workers
can actually expand. It is also possible that one sector of the
workforce is "overworked" while another portion is "underemployed."

But the real story turns out to be even more intriguing and complicated.
Based on a new analysis of the data, we have found that Americans
are indeed working longer than they once did, if not quite as
much as Schor would have us believe. But, more importantly, we
have also found that many Americans are both overworked and underemployed.
Because of growing job instability, workers face a "feast
and famine" cycle: They work as much as they can when work
is available to compensate for short workweeks, temporary layoffs,
or permanent job loss that may follow. What's more, while American
families as a whole are putting in more time, that work isn't
producing significant increases in living standards. For the typical
two-breadwinner household, having both parents work longer hours
may not mean an extra trip to Disney World or nicer clothes for
school; more likely, it means keeping up car payments or just
covering the costs of food and housing.


MULTITASKED

At one extreme are workers like Bill Cecil, a 50-year-old United
Auto Worker member recently portrayed in the Wall Street Journal.
Averaging four hours a day in overtime and volunteering to work
seven days a week for most of the year, Cecil clocks an average
of 84 hours a week at a Chrysler plant in Trenton, Michigan, where
he works as a skilled millwright. In the past two years, Cecil's
extraordinary work effort has paid off. He has averaged more than
$110,000 a year in gross pay. Sacri ficing, by his own admission,
"freedom and time with family," he works as much overtime
as the company will let him in order to help send his four kids
to college, fill his lunch pail with lobster salad rather than
luncheon meat, and underwrite his golf habit, which he indulges
whenever a vacation or a layoff permits. While Bill Cecil's case
is exceptional, 70 percent of the skilled-trades workers at his
engine production facility are working at least some extra hours
most weeks.

Increasing overtime is becoming more commonplace throughout the
manufacturing industry. For the first four out of five post-World
War II business cycles, average weekly hours of work for production
and nonsupervisory workers in manufacturing remained roughly constant,
varying only slightly between 40.1 and 40.4 hours. However, during
the current business cycle, from 1989 to 1996, the average workweek
has jumped to 41 hours—with average overtime reaching a post-World
War II peak of 4.7 hours per week in 1994.

A Fortune magazine poll of Fortune 500 CEOs in 1990 found
a similar tendency toward more work among executives. Sixty-two
percent of CEOs reported their executives were working longer
hours than they had ten years before. They reported that nearly
nine out of ten of their high-level executives normally put in
more than 50 hours a week while three-fifths of middle managers
did the same.

Moonlighting is also on the rise. In 1979, 4.9 percent of U.S.
workers reported working more than one job during the same workweek.
By 1995, the percentage was up to 6.4 percent. Virtually all of
this increase has occurred among women, who now represent nearly
half of all multiple job holders. According to a recent survey
sponsored by the Washington Post, the Kaiser Family Foundation,
and Harvard University, two out of five families report they have
sent an additional family member into the paid labor force or
had an existing working member take on an additional job—simply
because the family needed extra money.

Working more makes sense from both the employers' and the employees'
perspectives. Manufacturing firms like Chrysler do not hesitate
to schedule large amounts of overtime when product demand outstrips
supply, even if it means paying time and a half, double time,
or triple time during holidays, because it is still less expensive
than covering the high fixed costs of recruitment, training, and
possibly the underwriting of future severance pay associated with
hiring new workers. For salaried white-collar employees who are
exempt from hours regulations, the arithmetic is even simpler—the
extra hours often cost the company nothing at all.



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Fortune 500 CEOs and their executives say they need to put in
overtime just to keep up with global competition and compensate
for internal restructuring or middle-level management downsizing.
But why would blue-collar workers so willingly give up leisure
or family time? Schor has identified one factor, which she calls
"capitalism's squirrel cage"—an "insidious cycle
of work and spend" where people work long hours to support
a material lifestyle always a bit beyond their reach. But that
suggests the increased work hours are buying a rising standard
of affluence, which is somewhat misleading. Indeed, a more compelling
reason for extra work is the slowdown in wage growth during the
past two decades. Between 1947 and 1973, real hourly wages for
production and nonsupervisory employees rose by 79 percent. Since
1973 hourly wages have actually declined by more than 13 percent.
For many workers, working longer hours is the only way to compensate
for lower hourly wages.

Of course when pollsters ask people, "Would you like to work
less?", most say "yes." But when pollsters include
a caveat—that fewer working hours would mean less take-home pay—the
answer changes sharply. Over the last 20 years, surveys with this
appropriately worded question have been answered with great consistency:
Approximately 60 percent say they prefer their current work schedule
and pay. Of those who express a desire to change their working
time, more people, by about three to one, express the desire to
work longer rather than shorter hours.

Union negotiators in the U.S. know this, which is why they so
rarely make reducing work time a priority in collective bargaining.
In fact, many workers complain bitterly whenever management prerogative
or union contract restrict overtime hours. In a "real experiment"
on this issue, New York's state government in 1984 began allowing
their workers to take voluntary reductions in work schedules without
affecting their career statuses. The plan was flexible and permitted
workers to move on and off "V-time." Since its inception,
however, the program has never enrolled more than 2 percent of
the workforce.

This expressed desire for more hours is consistent with
the trend toward more contingent work. At the same time that many
workers are looking to expand their number of working hours, the
economy has shifted steadily from manufacturing to sectors like
retail trade and services, where part-time work is more common.
One estimate for 1995 places the total number of contingent workers
(part-time, temporary, and contract workers) at close to 35 million—28
percent of the civilian labor force. Of these, 18 percent of the
workforce or 23 million workers were part-time, working 35 hours
or less per week. Smaller in absolute numbers, but growing much
faster, is the temporary workforce, which between 1982 and 1995
more than tripled to 1.4 million workers. Manpower, Inc. now boasts
it is the largest employer in America, submitting more W-2 forms
to the Internal Revenue Service each year than any other firm.
The number of contract and self-employed workers is also growing
rapidly, indeed explosively. The U.S. General Accounting Office
has reported that the number of individuals who are self-employed
or working under personal contract was growing at more than 13
percent a year in the late 1980s. By 1988, 9.5 million Americans
worked for themselves either full-time or as a supplement to regular
or part-time employment.

A large proportion of the contingent workforce has chosen voluntarily
to work part-time, as temporaries, or as independent contractors.
Still, involuntary part-time employment is growing much faster
than the voluntary variety. In 1973, 19 percent of total part-time
employment was accounted for by individuals who wanted full-time
jobs but could not find them. By 1993, this proportion was up
to 29 percent. The incidence of involuntary part-time work is
especially high among men. In 1985, one in four part-time women
reported their part-time status was involuntary; nearly half of
all part-time men did so.

For the labor force as a whole, these numbers begin to
add up. Since 1994, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has been
compiling a new set of alternative measures of unemployment and
underemployment—what the Labor Department calls "labor resource
underutilization." In addition to the official unemployment
rate, the BLS adds three types of "underutilized" workers:
(1) those who have stopped looking for work only because they
have become discouraged by their apparent job prospects; (2) those
who are "marginally attached" to the civilian labor
force; and (3) those who are working part-time only because they
cannot find full-time jobs. The "marginally attached"
include those who want and are available for a job and have recently
searched for work, but have left the official labor force because
of such constraints as child care or transportation problems.

The official unemployment rate in 1995 was 5.6 percent with an
average of 7.4 million failing to find work each month. Adding
discouraged workers to the total brings the "underemployment"
rate up to 5.9 percent. Adding the "marginally attached"
ups the rate to 6.8 percent. Finally, adding in the involuntarily
part-time brings the rate to 10.1 percent. In what was a good
year for the economy and employment growth, 1995, the total number
of unemployed and underemployed workers reached nearly 13.5 million—one
in ten of the total labor force.

All of these trends contribute to the decline in the average workweek
reported by employers since at least World War II. As the chart
on this page indicates (see "The Shrinking Workweek"),
from 1947 to 1958 the average workweek was nearly 40 hours, the
"full-time" standard for much of this century. In the
most recent business cycle, the average workweek fell below 35
hours, the cutoff normally used to define a "part-time"
job. Ironically, in what is supposed to be an "overworked"
nation, the typical job is now part-time! Again, we should ask,
"overworked," "underemployed," or perhaps
both?


WHOSE NUMBERS SHOULD WE BELIEVE?

Whether we believe that Americans are overworked or underemployed
depends, in part, on whether we believe the work time data. Many
economists question Juliet Schor's findings and it's not hard
to understand why: The idea that Americans are, on average, spending
the equivalent of an extra month a year in paid work seems almost
unbelievable.

But is it? According to one recent study, Schor's basic finding
holds up, but her estimates of overwork appear somewhat exaggerated.
Using data from the Current Population Survey, Larry Mishel and
Jared Bernstein of the Economic Policy Institute have re-estimated
annual work hours for various years. Their research confirms the
general proposition of increased annual working hours, but for
a comparable period (1973 to 1992) their estimate is only three-fifths
as large as Schor's. They calculate that in 1973, the average
workweek (for both employed and self-employed workers toiling
in the public as well as the private sector) was 38.4 hours. The
average work year was 43.2 weeks, yielding an annual estimate
of 1,659 hours of work. By 1992, the average workweek had climbed
by 0.6 hours while the average work year had increased to 45.2
weeks. Hence, annual average hours had risen to 1,759, an increase
of 100 hours or 6 percent—but 63 hours less than Schor's estimate.











The Shrinking Workweek
Since World War II, the average workweek, as reported by employers, has declined.
YearsAverage Week* In Hours
1947-195839.5
1959-197238.2
1973-197836.2
1979-198835.0
1989-199634.5
*Total private-sector employment.

Source: Council of Economic Advisers, Economic Report of the President, 1987, Table B-41, and Council of Ecomoice Advisers, Economic Report of the President, 1996, Table B-43


Yet even these more reasonable figures raise questions. Note that
the steady decline in the average workweek reported by employers
as shown in the "Shrinking Workweek" chart suggests
that for average hours per job to decline while average hours
per worker increases, there would have to be enormous increases
in moonlighting. This seems implausible, because even with the
recent increase in moonlighting, only 8 million workers out of
a workforce of more than 125 million report holding more than
one job.

The problem may be with the very survey data upon which Schor,
Mishel, and Bernstein all rely. The estimates of hours worked
come from the March Current Population Survey (CPS) for each year,
which the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Labor compile
annually. Among several dozen questions about labor market activity,
the CPS asks respondents to report "hours worked last week"
and "usual weekly hours of work last year." Individuals
have only a few seconds to answer these questions. In making what
may be a wild guess, particularly for those people whose hours
vary substantially from week to week, the individuals frequently
guess high. And the more harried and rushed they feel, the higher
they guess. Could you account for the actual number of hours you
spent working last week?

A more accurate measure of hours worked comes from special
studies that target the work time issue by asking respondents
to keep a 24-hour time diary of everything they do over a one-
to two-day period. Such time diary surveys were first carried
out by the University of Michigan Survey Research Center in 1965
and 1975, and then again by the University of Maryland in 1985.
The accuracy of work time estimates derived from this survey approach
is presumably superior to CPS measures for two reasons. First,
the exercise's sole purpose is studying the use of time; second,
respondents do not have to plum their memories for what they did
a week ago or try to calculate instantly how many weeks they worked
all of last year.

Sure enough, a comparison of CPS-estimated hours of work and diary
entries suggests that people overestimate how much they work—and
that the overestimates get bigger the more hours they put in.
According to John Robinson of the University of Maryland and Ann
Bostrom of Georgia Tech University, who studied the two sets of
surveys, among those estimating 20 to 44 weekly hours, the CPS-type
estimates were only slightly higher than the diary entries. But
among workers claiming to "usually" work more than 55
hours per week, the gap was 10 hours or more per week. Robinson
and Bostrom concluded that "the diary data suggest that only
rare individuals put in more than a 55- to 60-hour workweek, with
those estimating 60 or more hours on the job averaging closer
to 53-hour weeks." Moreover, using the diary studies for
1965, 1975, and 1985, Robinson and Bostrom found a systematic
increase in the size of the estimate gap over time. The gap rose
from just one hour in 1965 to four hours in 1975 to six hours
in 1985, which is more than enough to account for the alleged
"overwork" that Schor and Mishel and Bernstein claim
to have found.

When Robinson and Bostrom analyzed diaries for 1965, 1975, and
1985 more carefully, they found only small changes in hours worked
among those who normally work 20 hours or more per week. Between
1965 and 1985, men's average hours declined by 0.7 hours per week
from 47.1 to 46.4 hours, while working women's hours increased
by the same amount (0.7) from 39.9 to 40.6 hours. If these numbers
are believed, then the source of increased hours worked that Schor
observed must be new entrants to the labor force—again, many of
them women—and part-timers who have increased their part-time
hours. Of course, whether this should be counted as "overwork"
or not is a matter of deeply divided opinion.


SCHORING UP THE FINDINGS

What can we make of such sharply different findings? To answer
this question, we decided to pursue still another approach, using
yet another type of survey instrument. So far, all of the research
on working hours has relied on data snapshots at different points
in time using either the CPS or diary information. An alternative
approach is to use longitudinal data—in other words, information
about the same people gathered year after year—to track working
hours. Using this information, we can follow the work time pattern
of, say, a particular age group over several years—as one could
with CPS data—or follow the same workers over time. Here we do
both in order to provide completely new estimates of work time.
We use the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), a data set of
families that the University of Michigan Survey Research Center
has been following since 1968. Graph--Individuals Working Harder AgainThe long-running nature of the
PSID permits a comparison of working time during two ten-year
periods—the 1970s (1969-1979) and the 1980s (1979-1989). (These
periods had similar growth rates in real output per person and
in job creation, and each encompassed two complete business cycles.
Hence, the comparison is a reasonable one to make.) We also combine
the two decades of data to follow a particular age group (in this
case, prime age workers with job experience) in order to derive
typical trends in annual work hours for men and women, whites
and blacks, and for segments of the population with differing
amounts of schooling.

While the PSID does not provide the full detail nor perhaps the
precision of hours estimates culled from the diary method, its
data on hours worked is superior to that of the CPS. First, PSID
asks respondents to detail their work experience by recalling
how many days they were on vacation, on sick leave, on strike,
or on leave due to other family members' illness. It then asks
respondents to answer questions about regular hours of work per
week and weeks worked on his or her main job. Then it poses the
same questions concerning up to three other jobs respondents held
during the year. Finally, all of this information is combined
to yield an estimate of annual hours. Obviously, this approach
suffers from recall problems, much as the CPS does, but the detail
on each job presumably permits a better estimate.

The first part of our analysis is based on computing the
average hours of work in each year from 1967 through 1989 for
prime age workers (ages 25-54). In this case, we use the PSID
as a series of cross sections where the sample individuals in
each year vary as younger individuals enter the prime age group
and aging workers leave it. We limit our sample in each year to
those who reported hours of work, eliminating those from consideration
who were out of the labor force in a given year. We generated
separate estimates for men and women, and broke the findings down
by race and by education. The graph on page 63 ("Individuals
Working Harder, Again") provides the results for all prime
age workers.

There is clear evidence of variation related to the business cycle.
Average hours dip sharply in 1970-71, in 1975, and then again
during the steep 1981-82 recession. But overwhelming the business
cycle is a U-shaped trend in hours of work. Average hours appear
to decline through the early 1980s and then begin a sharp recovery
throughout the decade. If we compare 1979 and 1989, the last two
business cycle peaks, there does indeed appear to be an increase
of 79 hours per year for the average worker. But over a longer
period, this increase marks not so much a startling increase as
a return to levels that prevailed in the late 1960s.

To obtain a more accurate estimate of the trend in hours, we ran
a statistical exercise to control for the business cycle. Having
done this, we find a small, but statistically significant, overall
upward trend in annual hours for prime age workers as a group.
The trend amounts to only 3.3 hours per year. Hence, over a 20-year
period, we find a 66-hour increase in annual work—the equivalent
of 1.5 weeks of full-time work per year. This is well below Schor's
estimate of 163 hours and a third below that what Mishel and Bernstein
found. But, importantly, the trend is decidedly upward, in contrast
to the essentially flat line Robinson and Bostrom found for the
1965-1985 period using the diary method.

Among men, working hours declined slightly, after we control for
the business cycle. But for women, hours increased significantly.
Indeed, our estimate of 18.8 additional hours per year translates
into a 20-year total somewhat greater than even Schor's estimate.
We also find significant differences in the hours trajectories
by race. Reflecting trends well documented elsewhere, our estimate
of a decline of 7.7 hours per year for black men translates into
an average work year in the late 1980s more than 150 hours shorter
than in the late 1960s. In 1989, we estimate that black men averaged
only 1,950 hours per year compared with just under 2,300 hours
for white men. Higher unemployment rates are responsible for part
of this difference. Shorter workweeks explain the remainder. This
suggests that the continuing earnings gap between white and black
men is only partly accounted for by differences in wage rates—the
traditional measure of labor market "success." A large
amount of the gap is also due to differences in hours worked.
Wage rates matter, but what is really killing black men in the
labor market is their inability to find full-time, full-year jobs
as readily as their white counterparts.

The racial gap in hours worked among women shows an intriguing
time pattern. On an annual basis, there appears to have been virtually
no gap in work hours in 1967. The gap then widened significantly,
so that by the mid-1970s black women were working almost 200 hours
more per year than white women. White women caught up again, and
by 1989 white and black women were working virtually the same
amount. To close the gap, white women's cycle—adjusted hours had
to rise substantially faster than that of black women. This is
precisely what happened. Over 20 years, white women's annual hours
increased by the equivalent of 10.3 weeks of full-time work, nearly
double the 5.4 weeks for black women.

As a general rule, then, there has been a slight reduction
in men's work hours and a large increase in women's hours. Given
these trends, we can ask what has happened to family work effort
as America has undergone the transition from the prototypical
"Ozzie and Harriet" division of labor of the 1950s to
the dual-career family of the 1980s and 1990s.

Graph--More Total HoursTo investigate the trend in family work effort, we have estimated
the combined hours of work for "prime age" families
in which both husband and wife are working. The long-term trend
is shown in the graph above ("More Total Hours . . .").
There is a clear and nearly unbroken trend toward much greater
work effort, interrupted only modestly by the recessions of 1971,
1974-75, and 1980-1982. By 1988, prime age working couples were
putting in an average of 3,450 hours per year in combined employment,
up from 2,850 two decades before. (Data for family hours and earnings
in our version of the PSID were incomplete for 1989, so we use
1988 as the end point for this analysis.)

Adjusting for business cycle effects, we calculate that for all
husband-wife working couples, family work effort increased by
more than 32 hours per year for each year of the 1970s and 1980s.
Hence, in the span of just two decades, working husband-wife couples
increased their annual market work input by a cycle-adjusted 684
hours or 4 months of full-time work. The typical dual-earner couple
at the end of the 1980s was spending an additional day and half
on the job every week. If individuals are not more overworked
than before, families certainly are.

Increases in family work effort differ significantly depending
on race and education. The increase in working hours among white
working couples was 60 percent larger than the increase for black
couples—a reflection of both the sharp decline in black men's
hours and the large increase in white female work effort. More-educated
working couples also increased their work effort more than those
with less schooling. Those in which the husbands had at least
undergraduate college degrees increased their combined work effort
by nearly 730 hours compared to an increase of only 490 hours
for couples headed by high school dropouts. The "overeducated"
are the ones most "overworked."

Has this enormous increase in work effort paid off in terms of
increased family earnings? The graph on the right-hand page (".
. . and for What?") shows our comparison of hours worked
and earnings growth.

For prime age working couples as a group, combined real earnings
rose by 18.5 percent between 1973 and 1988. (This represents an
increase from $43,851 to $51,955 in 1989 dollars.) Most of this
modest increase, however, did not come from improved wages, but
from increased work effort. The 18.5 percent increase in real
earnings was purchased with a 16.3 percent increase in hours worked.
Over the entire 15-year period, the combined average husband-wife
hourly wage increased by only 1.8 percent—the equivalent of a
real hourly wage increase of less than 30 cents over the entire
period, or 2 cents each year!

As such, Schor's "squirrel cage" does not appear to
be far off the mark. American mythology holds that long hours
will pay off in a steadily increasing standard of living; in other
words, sacrificing time with family can pay for a dishwasher or
microwave and, down the road, a more expensive college for one's
children. Yet from a purely material perspective, all the extra
hours from the "average" working family have yielded
only a very modest improvement in the amount of goods and services
they can buy.

Graph--And For What?

But even this story is too sanguine for most families. When we
break down the hours and earnings data by education group the
tale gets even more depressing. Most Americans are not working
harder so they can afford a fancier minivan; they're just trying
to make payments on their old car or cover the rent. When you
remove from the equation families headed by a worker with at least
a college degree, it turns out that the enormous increase in work
effort over the past 20 years has allowed families to maintain
their old standard of living—but almost nothing more. For families
headed by high school dropouts, the situation is the most dismal.
Between 1973 and 1988, such families increased their annual work
effort by nearly 12 percent yet ended up with 8 percent less annual
income. For families headed by high school graduates or some college,
work effort was up by 16 to 17.4 percent, producing less than
a 4 percent increase in total earnings. These families are trapped
in an Alice in Wonderland world, running faster and faster
just to stay in the same place. For all of these families, the
"family" hourly wage has fallen precipitously, by as
much as 17 percent in the case of the high school dropout.

Of course, more work still pays off for one group: families headed
by a college graduate. These families increased their work effort
by about the same percentage as those headed by high school graduates
or those with some college, yet their material consumption standard
increased by nearly a full third between 1973 and 1988. Unfortunately,
such well-educated families comprise less than a third of all
American dual-income families.


FEASTING BEFORE THE FAMINE

To this point, we have been concerned with trends in hours worked
and earnings for particular demographic groups. We now shift our
attention to an equally important issue. What can we say about
the year-to-year variation in work hours for individual workers?
This is of obvious importance given the debate over the apparent
growth in job insecurity. If a worker is insecure about his job,
then it is possible he may voluntarily work as much overtime as
he can in order to cushion the blow of depressed income from future
joblessness. Or, for that matter, he may work extra hours because
he has to pay off credit card debts that accumulated in the last
bout of underemployment.

To study this issue, we again separate the PSID into two ten-year
time frames corresponding to the 1970s (1969-1979) and the 1980s
(1979-1989). To focus on prime age workers, we restrict our analysis
of each decade to individuals who began at ages 24 to 48 and ended
the decade at ages 34 to 58. This prime age range provides a sample
of those who, for the most part, are old enough to have completed
their formal schooling and not old enough to have begun cutting
back their work hours in anticipation of retirement.

To measure inter-year variation in work hours for these prime
age workers, we have developed a special measure we call "Hi-Lo."
This statistic measures the proportion of individuals in a group
who, during a decade, experience at least one year in which they
work more than 2,400 hours and at least one year of 1,750 hours
or less. The "Hi" value is equivalent to an average
workweek of approximately 46 hours or more. The "Lo"
value is equivalent to less than 35 hours per week. These cutoffs
correspond to common definitions of "overtime" work
and "part-time" work.

According to our analysis, among all prime age males, nearly three
out of ten workers (28 percent) had at least one year of substantial
"overtime" and at least one year of significant "underemployment"
during the 1980s. Compared to the 1970s, the proportion of such
individuals experiencing such hours variation was up by nearly
8 percent.

For black men, the incidence of Hi-Lo variation is substantially
higher than among white men, with 37 percent of black men experiencing
this variety of "feast and famine" employment history.
Those who have completed a high school diploma or college degree
appear to experience less hours variation than those who drop
out of high school or do not complete college.

But by the far the strongest indicators of the feast-or-famine
syndrome emerge when we break the Hi-Lo numbers down according
to earnings levels and the number of job changes. Among men in
the lowest 20 percent of the earnings ladder, four out of ten
experience Hi-Lo hours variation—more than double those in the
top 20 percent. Those who have low earnings even when they are
working full-time are the most likely to experience a feast-and-famine
work life. Not surprisingly, those who change employers more often
face the highest rates of Hi-Lo activity. More than half of prime
age men who change employers at least four times in a decade face
years of "overtime" and years of "underemployment."
For women, the "overworked-underemployed" phenomenon
expanded as well between the 1970s and 1980s. In the earlier decade,
only 12 percent experienced such Hi-Lo work histories. In the
1980s, nearly 21 percent of women spent their lives on the work
time roller coaster.

High school dropouts have seen a substantial rise in Hi-Lo activity
between the two decades. But so have college graduates and the
top-quintile earners. One might conjecture from these findings
that those with the fewest skills and those in the ranks of middle
managers have been particular victims of downsizing. Future research
with the PSID should be able to provide more evidence to test
this hypothesis.

Taken together, the results for men and women suggest that increased
job instability has led to increased hours variability for men
and increased hours and variability of work for women. While the
data presented here cannot prove that male job instability causes
men to work more overtime when it is available and at the same
time increases women's workforce participation, the results are
fully consistent with such a thesis. In short, we can conjecture
that "underemployment" of men may be leading to "overwork"
for families. Because Dad's work prospects are more uncertain
than ever, Mom is working harder than ever before.

In the end, then, it turns out that both Schor and her
critics were partially right. There is compelling evidence of
both overwork and underemployment not only across the workforce,
but for individual workers (particularly men) who may face bouts
of full-time work interspersed with years in which part-time hours
are the rule. In both the 1970s and the 1980s, more than one-quarter
of men experienced a decade in which they worked at least one
year of "overwork" (more than 46 hours per week) and
at least one year of "underemployment" (less than 35
hours per week). How much of this is voluntary cannot be judged,
but the finding is consistent with other research that shows growth
in job instability and income insecurity. Adding to this evidence
is our finding that those workers who change jobs more than four
times in a decade are more than three times as likely to face
bouts of "overwork" and "underemployment"
as those who have at most one job change during the same period.

The reason for this overwork, ironically, turns out to be underemployment.
Men are working overtime to compensate for expected job loss in
the future. Women have expanded their work effort to cover for
what otherwise would be a sharp reduction in family living standards.

What does this foreshadow for family and community? Americans
will not find a better balance between work and leisure, between
earning a living and spending time with loved ones, between wage
earning and "civic engagement," until the economy provides
long-term employment security and rising wages. If past is prologue,
the last 25 years of U.S. labor market history should not make
us sanguine about the possibilities.

There is serious political talk, now and then, about legislating
shorter weeks. But no matter how much we may complain about being
overworked and no matter how much we worry about latchkey kids,
few American workers will support political action unless it is
tied to a much broader set of policies aimed at improving material
living standards along with more leisure.


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