Friday, December 16, 2005

Americans at work

I suppose everyone knows that Americans work longer hours than Europeans. Anyone know why? Is it cultural? James Surowiecki doesn't think so. In 1970 the French worked 10% more hours than Americans (compared to 28% less today).

What has changed since then? Higher taxes? Yes. But, more importantly, Europeans have more powerful unions and a more tightly regulated labor market.

The end result?

In the American model, then, you work more hours and use the money you make to pay for the things you can’t do because you’re working, and this creates a demand for service jobs that wouldn’t otherwise exist. In Europe, those jobs don’t exist in anything like the same numbers; employment in services in Europe is fifteen per cent below what it is in the U.S. Service jobs are precisely the jobs that young people and women (two categories of Europeans who are severely underemployed) find it easiest to get, the jobs that immigrants here thrive on but that are often not available to immigrants in France. There are many explanations for the estimated forty-per-cent unemployment rate in the banlieues that have been the site of recent riots, but part of the problem is that voluntary leisure for some Europeans has helped lead to involuntary leisure for others.

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