Letter to the Editor: U.S. workers need government help

We need a new way of thinking about working and jobs. The working class, those who are just a few paychecks from hunger, literally need a break. Those who are fortunate enough to have a job are working too many hours. The decline of the union has led to less paid time off and other leave benefits.

Our legislative branch of the government (on both sides of the aisle) has been bought and as a result has shied away from passing laws that protect workers that every other industrialized nation has passed. In the U.S., 85.8 percent of males and 66.5 percent of females work more than 40 hours per week.

At least 134 countries have laws setting the maximum length of the work week; the U.S. does not. According to the UN ILO, "Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers."

Using data by the U.S. BLS, the average productivity per American worker has increased 400 percent since 1950. One way to look at that is that it should only take one-quarter the work hours, or 11 hours per week, to afford the same standard of living as a worker in 1950 (or our standard of living should be 4 times higher). Is that the case? Someone is profiting, it's just not the average American worker.

The U.S. is the ONLY country in the Americas without a national paid parental leave benefit. The average is over 12 weeks of paid leave anywhere other than Europe and over 20 weeks in Europe. No industrialized nations are without a mandatory option for new parents to take parental leave. That is, except for the United States.

The U.S. remains the only industrialized country in the world that has no legally mandated annual leave. In every country included except Canada and Japan (and the U.S., which averages 13 days per year), workers get at least 20 paid vacation days. In France and Finland, they get 30 - an entire month off, paid, every year.

If you genuinely love what you do and are doing it for the right reasons, you are more than entitled to spend all of your waking hours plugging away. But for most of us, more work leads to more stress and a lower quality of life. Without time to unwind, take care of our home, enjoy our loved ones and friends, our hobbies, and generally live a happier life.

Stress is the No. 1 cause of health problems - mentally and physically. And there are few things that stress us out on a consistent basis like work does, especially when it takes away from all of the other things that life has to offer.

Since we have an unemployment rate of over 10 percent, wouldn't it make sense to reduce the working hours by at least 10 percent? Maybe it's time for a 36-hour week. Unless you really want a large pool of unemployed workers, to depress wages. As someone once said, "There are plenty of jobs out there, if you're willing to work for two or three bowls of rice a day."

Marcus "Pete" Hoover

Golden Valley