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Friday, November 24, 2017

This new American lifestyle

New styles of work blur the line between family and job.

The modern-day sweatshop.
My granddaughter, age 2, sits at the table while her mother, an engineer, works. If Julia stops focusing on her screen, my granddaughter taps her hand and says, “work, Mommy!”

This holiday I drove to be with my kids. My husband was in the passenger seat, tethered to a hotspot, working. He’d also worked on Sunday. My son was in the back seat working (albeit on his own project). When we arrived, my son-in-law was in his office working. The next day, he and my daughter got up at 4 AM so they could finish their workday before the remainder of their company arrived. My husband chose instead to work during his usual daylight hours.

On Thanksgiving, I was the only one who had to work: I got an alert that one of my current workshop ads had a date wrong. 

This morning I awoke at 5 AM to a flickering light outside. My son-in-law was outside replacing the thermostat on his tractor. Once again, my daughter is sitting at the kitchen table telecommuting.

US Labor Participation Rate, US Department of Labor.

Above is a chart of the labor-force participation rate in the United States. In the past few years, it has stabilized at 63%, which was, coincidentally, about what it was in 1950. However, in 1950, the non-participating part of the labor force—women—were providing support services for the other part. That is no longer how the population is divided.

In 1950, more than 80% of men were working, and just 33.9% of women. That steadily equalized until the end of the century. Since 2000, women’s participation in the workforce has started to decline along with men's. The participation rate of women is projected to be 59.4% in 2020 and 55.1% in 2050. Meanwhile, the participation rate for men continues to drop.

Change in men's and women's labor force participation, US Department of Labor.
Those who do work, work a heckuva lot. A Gallup report from 2014 estimated that the average full-time worker in the United States works 47 hours a week, one of the highest figures in the world. Salaried workers averaged 49 hours a week. Nearly four in 10 said they work at least 50 hours. And the highest numbers were recorded by the self-employed.

One question I wasn't able to answer is, what are the nearly 40% of the population who aren't working doing instead? I'd expected retirement numbers to be rising as Boomers age, but the percentage of older workers staying in the workforce is rising. They simply don't have the money to retire.

One of the great jokes of modern times has been the statement that “a woman’s place is in the home.” Until the Industrial Revolution, that was the economic center of the family; both partners worked at what we now call home-based businesses.

I like telecommuting. It has returned the American worker to his or her home. But sometimes I think the lines are too blurred. For some of us, all there is, is work.

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