Wednesday, April 01, 2009

"Europe’s Solution: Take More Time Off"

The New York Times featured several points of view about work-related solutions to economic woes. Some snips:

"How to Help the Economy, and Families" - Heather Boushey

Firms in the United States should consider cutting back in this recession by introducing shorter workweeks, flexible schedules and more time off, rather than laying off workers. These kinds of policies could help to keep consumption more stable than increased layoffs, as well as being potentially more popular with workers...

A complete layoff — especially in this economy where there are more than four unemployed workers for each job available — could be devastating to a family’s economic well-being. On top of lost income, since most workers get their health insurance from their employer, a layoff can mean the loss of access to health care for the worker and quite possibly their entire family.

"Germans Have Rights, Not ‘Benefits’" - Susan Neiman

The specter of unemployment creates special fears in Germany. They are not fears of mass homelessness or hunger: unemployed German workers can count on the state to pay their rent, health insurance and other basic living costs. Add a system where college education is virtually free, and you have a set of safety nets that any American worker must envy...

Even where unemployment doesn’t lead to homelessness (much less fascism) it does lead to humiliation and misery.

And so companies here are choosing the option of “Kurzarbeit” — short work — to shorten workers’ hours rather than laying them off. For up to 18 months, the government provides partial supplements to their salaries. Thus workers are spared unemployment, employers need not train new workers when the economy improves and the government need not worry about instability.

It’s an option that should be chosen by individual American companies wherever possible. To implement it nationally the United States would have to learn from a host of European social policies. The European system, in which health care, pensions and vacations are not called “benefits” but considered to be rights, is based on fundamentally different assumptions about humanity than the system Americans have...

"A Stimulus for Working Fewer Hours" - Dean Baker

More than 12 million workers in the United States are currently unemployed, with the number rising rapidly. The problem with the economy is that we can produce more goods and services than is being demanded. The way we generally deal with lack of demand is to lay people off, leaving a relatively small segment of the work force (the unemployed) to bear the pain of our economic problems.

An alternative would be to have everyone share in the adjustment to excess supply by reducing work hours. Fewer work hours would mean roughly proportionate reductions in pay, but there would be the offsetting benefit of more leisure time. Workers would have more time to spend with their families or in nonwork activities. This would bring us more in line with the rest of the world, where the standard workweek and year is considerably shorter...

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