Presidential candidate Jeb Bush is all over the news this week, for clumsy and out-of-touch comments he made about American’s needing to work more hours to grow the economy.
I’m not sure what’s happening on the campaign trail, but where I live, working long hours has become the norm. We are all checking email at crazy times, holding meetings in several different time zones, and responding to “urgent” requests immediately. In fact, Americans employed full-time report working an average of 47 hours each week, according to a 2014 Gallup poll.
For most Americans, work beyond the standard 40-hour work week is done without additional pay. It is just part of the job, and these expectations have made it harder and harder to make ends meet, not to mention balancing work and family.
It was precisely this situation that President Franklin Roosevelt sought to avoid when he signed the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) into law on June 25, 1938. In addition to establishing the national minimum wage (25 cents per hour), the FLSA codified the 44-hour work week, later reduced to 40, and required overtime pay for anything beyond.
Unfortunately, the overtime pay protections have eroded over the years. Originally designed to exempt highly-paid, white-collar workers, the income threshold for over times now stands at just $23,660 a year. Most workers are no longer eligible for overtime once they pass that annual salary – which is below the poverty line for a family of four.
In 1975, 62 percent of full-time workers were eligible for overtime; but now only 8 percent fall below the income threshold to qualify.
President Obama has proposed updating the overtime provisions, doubling the income threshold to just over $50,000. It is estimated that this proposal would make about 5 million more workers eligible for overtime protections and that women, minorities and younger workers would stand to gain the most.
In fact, data from the White House shows that the changes would make 2.6 million more women eligible for overtime, accounting for nearly 56 percent of workers added. Here in North Carolina, 160,000 workers would gain access to overtime pay.
Paying workers for the time they contribute is just plain fair. Expecting workers – and their families – to shoulder the burden of ensuring profitable companies is not sustainable. For workers trying to make it and for families trying to survive, the policy is just bad news.
So, Jeb Bush, we should work more hours? Sure, as along as we get paid for it.