Great News: Americans Work Longer and Harder Than Anyone Else in the World!

Americans are the most productive workers in the world:

American workers stay longer in the office, at the factory or on the farm than their counterparts in Europe and most other rich nations, and they produce more per person over the year.

They also get more done per hour than everyone but the Norwegians, according to a U.N. report released Monday, which said the United States “leads the world in labor productivity.”

The average U.S. worker produces $63,885 of wealth per year, more than their counterparts in all other countries, the International Labor Organization said in its report. Ireland comes in second at $55,986, followed by Luxembourg at $55,641, Belgium at $55,235 and France at $54,609.

The productivity figure is found by dividing the country’s gross domestic product by the number of people employed. The U.N. report is based on 2006 figures for many countries, or the most recent available.

Only part of the U.S. productivity growth, which has outpaced that of many other developed economies, can be explained by the longer hours Americans are putting in, the ILO said.

The U.S., according to the report, also beats all 27 nations in the European Union, Japan and Switzerland in the amount of wealth created per hour of work — a second key measure of productivity.
The U.S. employee put in an average 1,804 hours of work in 2006, the report said. That compared with 1,407.1 hours for the Norwegian worker and 1,564.4 for the French.

It pales, however, in comparison with the annual hours worked per person in Asia, where seven economies — South Korea, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, China, Malaysia and Thailand — surpassed 2,200 average hours per worker. But those countries had lower productivity rates.

America’s increased productivity “has to do with the ICT (information and communication technologies) revolution, with the way the U.S. organizes companies, with the high level of competition in the country, with the extension of trade and investment abroad,” said Jose Manuel Salazar, the ILO’s head of employment.

The ILO report warned that the widening of the gap between leaders such as the U.S. and poorer nations has been even more dramatic.

Laborers from regions such as southeast Asia, Latin America and the Middle East have the potential to create more wealth but are being held back by a lack of investment in training, equipment and technology, the agency said.

In sub-Saharan Africa, workers are only about one-twelfth as productive as those in developed countries, the report said.

“The huge gap in productivity and wealth is cause for great concern,” ILO Director-General Juan Somavia said, adding that it was important to raise productivity levels of the lowest-paid workers in the world’s poorest countries.

Gaius at Blue Crab Boulevard is jubilant: “So, still think everything is gloomy in the US? Really?”

Well, no, not everything. Still, I can’t say I’m as excited as Gaius seems to be about Americans working longer hours, at more jobs per person, for stagnant wages, and with fewer vacations and less paid sick time, and with ever-escalating health insurance co-payments and limits on coverage, if they even have health insurance at all. I’m weird that way.

Then again, according to the Heritage Foundation, Americans are working fewer hours and taking more vacations:

Many people believe that Americans are overworked, but new research shows that Americans are spending less time at work and more time at leisure than ever before. That research’s key conclusions:

* Since the mid-1960s, the amount of time that the typical American spends working fell by almost eight hours per week, while the time spent on leisure activities rose by just under seven hours per week.
* This additional leisure time is equivalent to an extra seven to nine weeks of vacation per year. Workers’ incomes would rise by over $5,000 per year if they worked these hours instead of enjoying more leisure.
* The amount of money Americans spend on recreation has steadily risen since 1970, and more Americans take part in various recreational activities than a generation ago.
* Americans have enjoyed upwards leisure mobility since the mid-1960s, but leisure has increased unequally. Less educated and lower-income Americans now work less and enjoy more leisure than Americans with higher incomes. This explains part of why they have lower incomes.

The economy has produced large and important gains in the non-material well-being of the American people, but the debate over living standards and inequality has ignored this important fact. Before it embarks on policies to redistribute income to reduce inequality, Congress should recognize that lower-income Americans have disproportionately benefited from the increase in leisure over the past generation.

It’s interesting how one can reach the same ideological conclusion using opposite sets of facts, isn’t it?

By the way: That $63,885 worth of wealth the average American worker produces per year is not what the average American worker earns each year. In fact, between 2001 and 2004, the average American family’s income went down by 2.3%:

Average family incomes fell in the USA from 2001 to 2004, pulled down by a sluggish recovery from the downturn and the sharp stock market drop, the Federal Reserve said Thursday. The decline — the first since 1989-92 — was accompanied by the smallest increase in net worth in that period.

In its comprehensive Survey of Consumer Finances, released every three years, the Fed said the median net worth of the bottom 40% of families declined, while those at the top saw gains. The percentage of families investing in stocks fell 3.3 percentage points to 48.6% from 2001 to 2004, a level last reached some time between the 1995 and 1998 surveys.

Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s, says job growth and incomes have been picking up since the survey period. But the report provides more troubling evidence of a rising gap in wealth in the USA.

“The household balance sheet is in good shape, better shape today … but it’s not improved for everybody. It’s improved for the people in the top distribution of income and wealth,” he says.

From 2001 to 2004, average family income fell 2.3%, to an inflation-adjusted $70,700 from $72,400 in the 1998-2001 period. By contrast, from 1998 to 2001, average income jumped 17.3%. Median income — the midpoint of the income range — rose 1.6% to $43,200.

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