Rich Work More than the ‘Working Class’
NYT sociologist Dalton Conley, in a NYT Labor Day op-ed entitled “Poor Man’s Burden,” notes that rich people work longer hours than their less-well-off cohorts.
[W]hat’s different from [Max] Weber’s era is that it is now the rich who are the most stressed out and the most likely to be working the most. Perhaps for the first time since we’ve kept track of such things, higher-income folks work more hours than lower-wage earners do. Since 1980, the number of men in the bottom fifth of the income ladder who work long hours (over 49 hours per week) has dropped by half, according to a study by the economists Peter Kuhn and Fernando Lozano. But among the top fifth of earners, long weeks have increased by 80 percent.
This is a stunning moment in economic history: At one time we worked hard so that someday we (or our children) wouldn’t have to. Today, the more we earn, the more we work, since the opportunity cost of not working is all the greater (and since the higher we go, the more relatively deprived we feel).
In other words, when we get a raise, instead of using that hard-won money to buy “the good life,” we feel even more pressure to work since the shadow costs of not working are all the greater.
One result is that even with the same work hours and household duties, women with higher incomes report feeling more stressed than women with lower incomes, according to a recent study by the economists Daniel Hamermesh and Jungmin Lee. In other words, not only does more money not solve our problems at home, it may even make things worse.
Well . . . no. It’s not the money that causes the problems, it’s the earning process.
Most people who have hourly jobs leave their work-related worries behind the moment they leave the job site. Sure, they might be worried about losing their job but they aren’t thinking about jackhammering or delivering packages or flipping burgers or stocking shelves or whathaveyou once they get home. In most cases, there’s a clean division between work and homelife.
That’s not true for most salaried workers, let alone executives. Sure, many of us have the luxury of taking a few minutes here and there during the “work day” to surf the Internet or, indeed, even write blog posts. But our day doesn’t end when we step out of the office.
It’s not just that we’re chained to the job with our email and ubiquitous BlackBerries. Were it not for those conveniences, most of us would be forced to spend more time in the office rather than having the flexibility to work from home on occasion. Even when we’re not consciously working, we’re fretting over the next day’s presentations, looking ahead to various problems, and otherwise engaged in work.
Beyond that, most of these people build their lives around their work, drawing both much of their self-worth and quite a bit of satisfaction from it. This is the difference between a job and a career.
A quarter century or so ago, Al Franken had a bit on “Saturday Night Live” wherein he observed that, as a comedian, anything that he used in his act was techically a “business expense.” He proceeded to hold up various luxury purchases, mentioning them on the show, so that he could get a tax write-off. Presumably, he didn’t actually put in for the deductions. But his humor was on target: What, exactly, does constitute “work” for people who make a living making observations about living?
To be sure, there are those who are rich even though they don’t do much. Some people win the lottery. Others inherit lots of money because someone related to them worked really hard and left it to them. But the vast majority of those who inhabit the upper reaches of the income distribution are there because they’ve worked really hard for a long time.
Somehow, though, they’re not part of the “working class.”