Balancing Work and Life in America

Josiah Mayberry, Staff Writer

American work-life balance is not as worker-friendly as that of most of the developed world, this is despite America’s historic wealth and much increased worker productivity.

Economics, in the western sense, is a rather new field, birthed in 1776 by Scottish philosopher Adam Smith, and not fully conceptualized under the term “economics” until the end of the 19th century. Since the study of wealth has been invented, there have been two nations, mainly, competing for the top spot. Those two being the United States and China, after those two there is a pretty substantial drop off.

As economics is so new, there aren’t many ways to quantify a comparison between America and any ancient civilization. Technological advancements and higher population also contribute to our advanced, robust economies today. But simply put, America is the most wealthy country that the world has seen, or at least very very close to the top.

As of 2022, Americans constituted 30% of the entire world’s net worth. Let that sink in, America has 4 percent of the world’s population and almost a third of the world’s wealth. An incomprehensible amount of money, yet we work more than countries we absolutely dwarf in terms of production already.

For example, Germany and Denmark work around 30 hours a week, the Netherlands average 29.5. Belgium, Canada and Australia are experimenting with a four day work week, giving employees the option to have even more days off. The United Kingdom averages 33 hours a week per employee and France comes in at 35.

As we can see, these are not developing countries or countries who don’t know what they are doing. These nations are our contemporaries, our allies, our friends, and they have figured out a way to make life for their employees just a bit easier. Furthermore, most of these countries are capitalist, showing that capitalism when controlled, as much as we hate to do that, can benefit more than the top 1%, or the top .1% of that 1%.

This brings us to ourselves, a 2021 Gallup survey found adults averaged 44 hours of work per week. We work more than Japan, and they are one of the most notoriously overworked societies. Entire books have been published of workers falling asleep in public standing up, at bus stops, everywhere, but we still work more than them and do not see an issue. Additionally, 94% of service professionals were reported working over 50 hour weeks.

“Most definitely, a lot of people have lower end jobs or service industry jobs…some work from 10 am to 12 am with less than 10 hours between shifts,” sad Britian Allen, a local server. “These unhealthy work habits sometimes contribute to unhealthy habits outside of work, like drinking excessively, or turning to other methods of ‘numbness’.”

According to the American Addiction Center, 17% of service industry workers have been diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder, and 19.1% of workers surveyed reported using illicit drugs in the last month.

“Most definitely, it should be mentioned I’m lucky enough to work for one of the top thirty rated organizations in America,” said Britian’s partner, Jason, when asked if American culture places too much importance on work. “My company places a big emphasis on work-life balance, mental health, diversity, etc.”

As an American laborer it seems that the select few able to work for the best companies receive much fairer treatment compared to the majority of Americans. Any restaurant job, blue collar job, retail job, factory job, production job or any of the other very necessary but undervalued professions in America are subjected to inhumane treatment and addiction inducing circumstances.

So, this begs the question. With our immense wealth, what is the reason for how terrible the work-life balance is in America? We don’t need to catch up to another country, we aren’t in a war having to keep factories running, we are not a developing nation.

In 2019, the average American worker was 59.7 percent more productive than our counterparts in 1979. So, shouldn’t this mean we work a half as much, or maybe three-fourths as much? That way we are still head and shoulders above other countries. Or we should have around a 50% higher quality of life, there needs to be a tangible difference or else we are literally getting extorted.

Logically it makes sense, but in reality this couldn’t be further from the truth. We work just as much and make less money, with wages increasing 15.8 percent during our 60 percent productivity increase. CEO’s and bosses are reaping the benefits of our increased value, while wages are stagnant, healthcare is still privatized, and college continues to skyrocket in price.

“I feel like I give 80% of my time to work and 20% to my family,” said Erin Robinson, the bar manager of one of the busiest restaurants in town. “There’s zero for me, I mean my sleep, that’s my alone time. Not that it’s right, that’s America, you work and you die…you’re working a lot of hours a week, making very little but making other people rich.”

Technically, one could say modern America works even more than our previous eras due to the amount of women working, around a third of women were working in the mid 20th century, now this is unimaginable, in 2019 57.4 percent of women were working. The 1950’s as a whole were a time of great economic prosperity for many Americans, despite women not participating near the rates they are now.

This alone shows how vastly different the current financial landscape is in the United States, families with multiple children were able to not only survive, but thrive off of a single income, nowadays this is a fairytale, for the most part.

Aside from having a cap on hours, at least in Europe, one of the most poignant examples of the disparity between America and the rest of the world’s practices lies around paid maternity or paternity leave and sick days. The world outside of Europe averages 12 weeks of parental leave, with pay, the pay ranges from 50% to a little less, all the way to 100% compensation. Europe itself averages over 20 weeks of leave, most near 100% pay.

In America we are guaranteed none, and when we do receive it there are no guidelines for the receiving of pay. McDonald’s employees in Denmark are given a pension, start at $20 an hour, and have time off. McDonald’s workers in America are looked down upon, told it takes no skill to flip a burger, and shooed away with some free college. Of course free college is great, but that is one aspect, and other country’s workers already have free or more affordable schooling.

America, as the leader of the free world, and one of the most historically wealthy nations ever, should not be subjecting her workers to such conditions. When other countries give their laborers much more, along with granting them a solid baseline for their quality of life. Working so much you set yourself behind every other way besides financially is not a recipe for a happy, fulfilling or healthy life.