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Americans Are More Overworked and Underpaid Than Any Workforce in the Industrial World

Around the world, the U.S. is recognized as a nation of hope and opportunity. However, the current state of income inequality and lack of workers’ rights are systemic issues caused by decades of lobbying for corporations, a practice recognized by many critics as a form of legal bribery. This has helped establish legislation that limits tax regulation on big businesses and protects corporations from consequences for unethical and questionable actions in the pursuit of expansion.

Although these are factors that have played into making the U.S. one of the most powerful countries in the world, studies show that trickle-down economics lead to tax havens for the rich instead of increased economic growth. Although the current system has convinced much of the working class to settle for being underpaid for their hard work for the sake of the economy, more government regulations on corporations could ensure that workers are paid fairly without the economy suffering.

Government Influence in Overworked and Underpaid Employees

Developed European countries often implement more legislation surrounding workers' rights compared to the U.S. In the U.S., employees are not guaranteed any type of paid vacation, sick leave, or maternity leave; however, many businesses offer paid holidays and two weeks paid vacation annually to full-time employees.

In Germany, the political climate surrounding workers' rights is much different as it prioritizes the quality of life businesses offer their employees. Businesses are required to offer at least four weeks of paid vacation, as well as maternity leave and other workers' rights. These rights are considered vital to the overall success of an employee in the workplace, as the government has established that happy employees are more productive.

There are a few reasons behind such different governing styles between the U.S. and Germany, including deep foundational issues within our government that create loopholes that allow for corruption and a two-party political system that hinders legislative progress.

Lack of government regulation allows corporations to form business practices around cutting costs rather than caring for their employees. One example of this includes hiring several part-time workers to do the same job instead of simply hiring a few full-time employees -- a practice used to avoid paying health benefits and paid holidays for new full-time workers. Another example is requiring employees to work overtime to avoid adding on more employees.

These practices force entry-level workers in particular to work more than one job in order to make a full-time income -- which often amounts to more work and stress, and less pay and benefits. Without the protections that come with full-time employment, workers often fear being considered disposable, which creates an unstable environment for employees that keeps them from thriving.

These consequences are all symptoms of the lack of corporate regulation, which is done in the name of maintaining a free market. In Germany, where the government takes a larger role in taking care of their citizens, these types of business practices are strongly discouraged, which in turn leads to a higher quality of life for workers and their families.

Health Consequences of Overworked Employees

There are legitimate health risks and consequences associated with employees who are stressed and overworked -- which, as established, is a category millions of Americans fall into. American workers who juggle two or three jobs each day often work odd hours, which prevents them from getting the necessary amount of sleep they need to function at their best. Workers who sleep between jobs instead of getting a full night of rest are likely not falling into REM sleep, which is the stage of deep sleep that restores both the brain and body. Without this type of sleep, workers are likely to feel constantly exhausted and unhealthy.

This also poses a high risk for workers behind the wheel and Americans on the road. The American Automobile Association has found that 35 percent of drivers in the U.S. get fewer than the recommended seven hours of sleep each day and that fatigued driving was a factor in more than 20 percent of all fatal traffic accidents.

For overworked Americans who work as truck or delivery drivers, this creates high-risk circumstances that could be dangerous to everyone on the road. Although truck driving is often a full-time position with required sleeping time, stressed drivers under deadlines may skip out on sleep to complete their work. Delivery drivers, on the other hand, often work in shifts; if those drivers are working multiple jobs and sleeping between shifts, the consequences could be deadly.

Unfortunately, these are often risks that workers are willing to take when under the pressures of financial stress. Millions of Americans sign up willingly for these circumstances in pursuit of the peace of mind that comes with knowing they'll be able to pay their bills. Although they don't have a lot of options to make ends meet in the current economic state of the U.S., Americans must seek out ways to prioritize their health to avoid diving deeper into the economic distress that comes with falling ill. As part of the poor working class, the overworked and underpaid are at an increased risk of developing severe medical problems due to a lack of access to quality healthcare and poor health literacy.

Improving Conditions for American Workers

Although workers often balance several low-paying jobs when they are unable to find a full-time position that pays a liveable wage, the issue of being overworked often stems beyond the working poor.

Employers who offer their highly trained and educated workers a full-time position and salary often ask for more than any one person is able to give. Whether due to high employee attrition rates or company layoffs, employers choose to give their employees extra work without appropriately compensating them for the additional workload and stress they are likely to encounter. This can be harmful for both the company and employees, and it can lead to stress-related health issues in employees.

Over the last few years, bills like the Workplace Action for a Growing Economy (WAGE) Act, and the Workers' Freedom to Negotiate Act of 2018 have sought to amend the outdated policies outlined in the National Labor Relations Act that was enacted in 1935. The WAGE Act, which would have helped ensure workers had a voice in the workplace and would have cracked down on employers who broke the law when workers exercised their basic right to collective action was sponsored by 32 members of congress. However, the bill failed in December 2018 after not receiving the votes necessary to move forward in the legislative process.

The systemic problems surrounding overworked and underpaid employees are difficult to change in the U.S. two-party system and capitalist economy. While worker protections are urgent and could improve the quality of life for millions of Americans, there is a lack of regulation that requires employers to do what's best for their employees rather than their wallet.

For now, it's up to individual employers to make the right decisions by their employees. Employers should recognize the stress that comes with working multiple jobs and mandatory overtime. They can choose to alleviate that stress by hiring more full-time employees. Content employees are healthy and productive employees, and this should be a priority for any successful business.

Posted by jhamilton at March 8, 2019 2:13 PM
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Massive importation of cheap labor via H-1B, H-2B, visa, and green card abuses is not helping.

Many Information Technology departments all over the U.S.A. have been overrun by cheap labor imported from India, and much of the language spoken in the workplace in the U.S.A. is Hindi.

Diversity is fine, but when 90% of the people around you are speaking Hindi, that isn’t diversity.

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