When economic theory makes its way into campaign trail chatter it can take on a life of its own. And Jeb Bush’s gaffe-of-the-week showed how even today, Reaganomics keeps trickling down into the popular conservative parlance.
When asked about the crisis of unemployment, Bush stated, “Workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows. It means that people need to work longer hours and through their productivity gain more income for their families.”
The economy should aim for 4 percent annual growth to sustain more jobs, he argued, so “we have to be a lot more productive.”
The comment was instantly assailed as both “out of touch” and incompetent. But the best takedown comes from the latest economic data reports: Americans overall work longer hours on average than peers in many other rich industrialized countries. Full-time employees clock about 47 hours weekly, according to recent surveys. Nearly 40 percent of full-time workers spend 50 or more hours at work each week. Most working households have seen their annual working hours tick up by 9 to 10 percent between 1979 and 2007. Plenty of workers, especially women, are even juggling more than one job.
It’s true that many people are working fewer hours than they’d like, but that’s not for want of trying: they’ve been unable to secure full-time work so they take up part-time gigs. According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the number of “involuntary part-time” workers has grown since the recession hit to more than 6.6 million.
And more than 3 million so-called “missing workers” have dropped out of the workforce altogether because they’ve become discouraged from even trying to seek a job. While all these workers are less “productive” than they could be, that’s mainly because there aren’t adequate opportunities for them to use their potential.