Diamond-Cut Life

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What About Overemployment?

August 10th, 2011 by Alison · 2 Comments · money, work

I have a different take on our troubled economy than most. On one level it’s highly unfortunate that unemployment is going to remain high under the Federal Reserve’s recent decision to keep short-term interest rates near zero. In a country that calls itself developed, virtually everyone who needs or wants to work should be working, . High unemployment means enormous suffering. Without work and income, people can’t meet their basic needs or maintain dignity.

Yet, our culture’s problems are much deeper than unemployment. Many U.S. workers are overemployed and overpaid. We never seem to talk about that.  Many people work far more than forty hours a week — as millions don’t get to work at all.  Many people with jobs make a great deal more money than they need — while millions of people, termed the working poor, toil for minimum wage yet would become homeless with one or two missed paychecks. I know a software engineer who has said to me, “I am overpaid. And what I do does nothing to make the world a better place “. I respect him, because few admit this kind of thing.

We don’t have to have chronically high unemployment. We just assume we have to. For example, we could have widespread job-sharing. People could work 20 or 30 hours a week instead of their current 40 or 50, and thus open up jobs of 20 or 30 hours a week to thousands of currently unemployed people. Jobs, like any other resource,  could be well distributed if we decided they should be well distributed.

I need to get dressed and pack for my overnight work trip, which today involves Salem, Eugene and finally Corvallis, the lovely college town where I’ll be spending the night. Before I start the drive, I’m going to call my employer’s human resources department and ask if it’s possible to do a job-share. I’d seriously consider giving up half my job and income if it meant an unemployed person could gain some work and income. Before you think I’m a saint, you should know that my husband makes a good income. But then, the same is true of many people who have full-time jobs. A culture’s chronic unemployment might actually be a result of overemployment. Let’s add the word to our vocabularies.

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • christina

    as I look to downsize my job next month I am excited about the prospect of it. Less money, more time is an equation I am lucky enough that I can get by with. I am fortunate enough to have always had a gift for getting by on whatever I make, having benefits with part time work and now having more time to pursue my diverse interests instead of just focus them on a job I enjoy but it isn’t my only passion. I agree, Alison. I’ll happily step aside and make a little more room for the next person!

  • Tess Giles Marshall

    When the credit crunch first hit a couple of years ago, there were a couple of visionary law firms (my industry) in the UK who gave their people the option of either cutting hours and salaries for most or making wide-spread job cuts. People chose the former. And this is quite something in a sector known for its high pay and, I have to say it, widespread sense of entitlement, aka greed.
    I think there are some jobs which are more difficult to share and to work short hours, but we’re an ingenious lot, we should be able to figure it out.

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