Saturday, June 14, 2014

New Baffler post: our deadly culture of overwork

The terrible auto accident last week that nearly killed comedian Tracy Morgan was caused by a Walmart truck driver who hadn't slept in over 24 hours. In my latest Baffler post, I cite that accident as an example of America's deadly culture of overwork and the lax labor laws that enable it. Research strongly suggests that working long hours is associated with a host of poor health outcomes that include higher rates of injuries, depression, anxiety, coronary heart disease, and -- yes -- death. Yet there's little evidence that long working hours increases productivity -- in fact, the truth appears to be the opposite. In many countries in Europe, the maximum legal work week is 48 hours. It's long past time the U.S. institute a similar cap.

UPDATE: To be clear, it's professional class workers who are working longer hours these days -- lower-income workers are actually working less, on average. As a recent Economist piece noted, "Americans with a bachelor’s degree or above work two hours more each day than those without a high-school diploma," and the share of college-educated men working over 50 hours a week has risen significantly in recent decades. But the decline in the average number of working hours for low-income workers isn't exactly voluntary -- to a large extent, it "reflects a deterioration in their employment prospects as low-skill and manual jobs have withered," says the Economist.

SECOND UPATE: The New Republic's excellent David Dayen has more on the economics of the trucking industry and the regulatory failures which are contributing to many deadly trucking accidents.


  1. I've just discovered your blog. As a high school history teacher, I try to fit as much economics into the curriculum as my students can handle. Right now I'm teaching about the post-war world and America's place in it. Thanks for creating this blog, which will help me with good examples that my students can relate to, like this post.

  2. urbansocrates, I'm so happy you found my post helpful! Thanks for you kind words. Michelle Chen, Bryce Covert, and Working In These Times (in my blog roll at the right) also cover labor issues. You may find their work useful for your class.