Tuesday, October 16, 2012

News Of Two Reversing Trends Reminds Us The Rich Get Richer And The Rest Of The Nation, Working Harder, Dies Earlier

In an earlier National Notice article I observed two challenges stressing the Social Security system that cried out to be paired:
    •    Because the nation’s wealth and income are increasingly skewed, going more to those who are already wealthier, less money is being paid into the Social Security system because the wealthier, to whom that income is being redirected, pay proportionately less of their income into the Social Security System, and

    •    The wealthiest Americans are costing that system more, and benefitting more from it than the rest of us, because they are living longer than other Americans.
(See: Friday, April 29, 2011, Social Security Inequation: This is Rich, Living Longer While Everyone Else Enjoys It Less; Putting Two Together.)

I recently came across two more news stories, both about the reversal of what were long-term historic trends, that both appear to dovetail with and reinforce the observed stressors to the system mentioned above:
    •    The shortening workday gets longer again.  In the 1960s the length of the average workday had been shrinking consistently for so many years running (for 70 or 80 years, since the late 1800s) that a three-hour work day, predicated by John Maynard Keynes might arrive by about the year 2030.   But the trend reversed and our workdays have, instead, gotten longer again.  (See: As Jetsons turn 50, have their predictions held up? by Andrew Parsons, Marketplace for Friday, September 21, 2012.)

    •    Life expectancy for the less advantaged, once lengthening, is now growing shorter again.  According to a recent article in the New York Times: “For generations of Americans, it was a given that children would live longer than their parents. But there is now mounting evidence that this enduring trend has reversed itself for the country’s least-educated whites, an increasingly troubled group whose life expectancy has fallen by four years since 1990.”  (See: Life Spans Shrink for Least-Educated Whites in the U.S., by Sabrina Tavernise, September 20, 2012.)
It is hardly surprising to think that if the less advantaged are having to work harder at longer days they might be living shorter lives, thus increasing the already existing difference in life spans between the well-to-do and the less advantaged.

As for the Times article reporting on diminished life spans, the sharp-eyed and/or hard-hearted reader might point out that the article’s main focus is on whites, particularly white women, who have not obtained high school diplomas: It is not, per se, about those with lower incomes.  It is also possible to point out, quite rightly, that those without high school diplomas for which there has been the sharpest reversal and decline in life expectancy is a shrinking group, now “about 12 percent of the population, down from about 22 percent in 1990.”  So it could be argued that the statistics mean that because the advantage of a high school diploma is now more readily obtainable (if it is, as opposed to just more necessary) those who don’t obtain a high school diploma represent a culling down to a more hard core group with more serious problems and that the now shortening life spans of the group flows from that reality . . .

. . .  But that would be passing over the news in that article that the relative live expectancy of Americans overall (while going up for the wealthy) is declining overall relative to other nations, particularly for women:
In 2010, American women fell to 41st place, down from 14th place in 1985, in the United Nations rankings. Among developed countries, American women sank from the middle of the pack in 1970 to last place in 2010, according to the Human Mortality Database.
Now why is the workday lengthening so that we are working harder, perhaps to the detriment of our health in a way that could explain some of the shortening life expectancy above?   According, to the Marketplace story that reported the reversal of trends that has resulted in the lengthening our workdays, we’re actually  “still getting more productive” (albeit not quite as fast as before) “but the benefits from our productivity also go elsewhere now -- like the income gap.” 

According to Gary Burtless, an economist at the Brookings Institution, interviewed for the Marketplace story:
If the people at the top are getting more, there’’s a smaller percentage left over for workers in the middle and at the bottom.
What accounts for a world where the extra benefit from increased productively on the part of workers is squeezed out so that it only enriches those at the top of the income ladder rather than increasing salaries or reducing the workdays for those who are more productive?  Perhaps it’s a world where firms like Bain Capital (where Mitt Romney made his fortune) are poised and always ready to arrive on the scene to ensure that this is exactly what happens.

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