Ex-Senator Backs Short Work Week Give Extra Hours to Jobless, Urges Proxmire's Proposal

By Virginia Baldwin Hick Of the Post-Dispatch | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), October 18, 1993 | Go to article overview

Ex-Senator Backs Short Work Week Give Extra Hours to Jobless, Urges Proxmire's Proposal


Virginia Baldwin Hick Of the Post-Dispatch, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


The problem: Fewer Americans have full-time jobs, but those who do are working longer hours.

The solution: Cut their work week and give the extra hours to people who need jobs.

That's what former Sen. William Proxmire proposes. Proxmire has taken the shorter work week as his personal crusade. He believes the twin evils of unemployment for some and overwork for others have contributed to a variety of social ills, including increased crime, the decline of the family and the rise of juvenile gangs. How Plan Would Do Here

Could his idea work in St. Louis?

Yes and no, said Russell Signorino, employment analyst for the Missouri Division of Employment Security.

Signorino used statistics for the metropolitan area to demonstrate his answer.

The manufacturing industry is the classic example of how it could work. Last August, St. Louis factory worker worked an average of 42.5 hours a week, an increase of more than an hour a week from the same time last year.

Signorino estimated that cutting the hours in only that industry to 39 a week with no overtime would create 10,400 jobs.

But the 119,000 manufacturing workers represent a little more than 10 percent of the region's workforce.

Many more of the region's workers already have a shorter work week. For example, retail trade workers logged just 29.7 hours a week in August. Their biggest problem was getting enough work to make a living.

The retail industry represents 18.5 percent of the jobs in the St. Louis area.

Further, nearly a third of workers in the St. Louis area - managers, professionals and administrators - are exempt from the federal work-week limit. `Not As Simple As It Sounds'

Proxmire's suggestion "is not as simple as it may sound," Signorino said. "If we're hoping that it would be painless and create a lot of new jobs, unfortunately that wouldn't necessarily happen. And if workers are paid on an hourly basis, it could mean a reduction in their earnings."

Not the way Proxmire figures it. He would apply productivity gains to reducing the hours and require employers to pay their employees the same salary for less work.

He cited a study, "The Overworked American," that a Harvard professor made public last year . The study found that "productivity has advanced so much in 50 years you could maintain the same standard of living they had 50 years ago - which was pretty high - and give every worker in America every other year off with full pay."

Proxmire noted that the current 40-hour work week became law in 1938, along with the nation's first federally mandated minimum wage. The change created thousands of new jobs, proponents said. …

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