last day of summer

amusement park cropped

In my former home state of Minnesota, the end of the state fair always marked the unofficial last day of summer. Tomorrow is the last day of the state fair, and hence, summer. The rich people at the LaFayette Club on Lake Minnetonka will have their fireworks display. It is Labor Day, a holiday that extends the summer vacation one last day before everybody gets to return to work.

Oh, boy! One more whole day.

I am always conscious of the date on which Labor Day falls because Holly waited for this holiday and the end of summer to die. Twenty-one years ago, it was September 6. This year Labor Day falls a week earlier.

Why do I suspect that we are being gypped out of a week of summer now that the recession “is drawing to a close” and worker productivity must be raised?

Americans already work more than anyone in the industrialized world. More than the English, more than the Japanese, more than the French, way more than the Germans or Norwegians. And Americans take less vacation, work longer days, and retire later, too. Now I suspect they want even more from us.

The government says we’re working only slightly more and not so much that most people should really notice. Numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show a very gradually rising trend through the 1990s that tapered off after 2000, hovering somewhere just north of 40 hours weekly. But ask Americans themselves and they say they’re working 10 more hours a week than the government does. Post-recession studies indicate that we’re now working up to 46 hours a week.

Back in 1970, the average work week for an American worker was about 35 hours.  Juliet Schor, who wrote the 1992 best-selling book The Overworked American concluded that by 1990 Americans worked an average of nearly one month more per year than in 1970. And that was pre-recession, before they used the crisis to turn the screws on us.

According to one recent survey, the average American worker spends an extra seven hours per week on work tasks such as checking emails and answering phone calls after normal work hours.  Other Americans are juggling two or three jobs in a desperate attempt to make ends meet.

Americans are busier than ever and work often pushes the other areas of our lives on to the back burner.  What this also means is that “family vacations” are becoming increasingly rare in the United States. In fact, Americans spend less days on vacation than anyone else in the industrialized world.  While some would applaud our “work ethic”, the truth is that the fact that we are being overworked is having some very serious consequences.

As we’ve known for a while, long hours diminish both productivity and quality. Among industrial workers, overtime raises the rate of mistakes and safety mishaps; likewise, for knowledge workers fatigue and sleep-deprivation make it hard to perform at a high cognitive level. Past a certain point overworked people become less efficient and less effective.

Apparently we are conditioning ourselves to keep up this insane pace at younger and younger ages. A couple days ago I was talking with my ersatz daughter Sarah, and she told me her kids had been in school since the beginning of August. I’m sorry, but this strikes me as goddamned un-American. This is all getting out-of-hand.

Well, there’s nothing to be done about it this weekend but to enjoy the time off.

In choosing the Groove of the Day, I had a choice between a shorter and a longer version of the same song by Rodgers and Hammerstein, and I opted for the longer one. Enjoy your free time. Take an extra turn on the carousel for me.

It’s back to the grindstone and more exploitation on Tuesday.


Groove of the Day

Listen to the New York Philharmonic performing “The Carousel Waltz”


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