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
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. …