The Privilege of Longer Working Hours
June 16, 2016 2:09 AM   Subscribe

We used to think that as living standards improved, less work would deliver more income and thus more leisure time. But now, more and more work hours are what everyone's after. Because in today's economy, the alternative to working more isn't enjoying quality time with friends and family. The alternative is nothing. The American workplace has basically become a Thunderdome where the victors are rewarded with long hours. How insane work hours became a mark of American privilege by Jeff Spross in The Week [via NextDraft]
posted by chavenet (90 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well, if everybody lives in sparse suburbs, the alternative is vegetating in front of the TV or playing with some of the things one has bought, before they get thrown out to make room for the next lot. Actual serendipitous social interaction is not on the agenda; you can't go out to a bar on a nearby street corner and catch up with friends, or play a game of street football, or whatever. As for hanging out with friends, if everybody lives far apart in different suburban culs-de-sac, it's much more convenient to get your fill of that on Facebook or Reddit (or, indeed, the Blue), which you can do at your desk during your nominally 10-hour work day.
posted by acb at 2:48 AM on June 16, 2016 [14 favorites]


I RTFA, and it appears to have a massive blind spot of not accounting for the fact that while yes, low-wage workers often don't work "long hours" at a given job (think of fast food with flexible scheduling where they kick you off the clock if sales volumes are low), many low-wage workers are absolutely working "long hours" in total by working multiple jobs and/or within the informal economy.
posted by mostly vowels at 2:58 AM on June 16, 2016 [71 favorites]


Yeah that is salaried rather than waged work, although maybe that also is increasingly privileged.
posted by carter at 3:41 AM on June 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


Because in today's economy, the alternative to working more isn't enjoying quality time with friends and family. The alternative is nothing.

the alternative is vegetating in front of the TV or playing with some of the things one has bought

The things most likely to fall by the wayside when my work week blows past 40 hours: exercise, feeding myself a non-crap dinner, cleaning/laundry/any sort of household chores, washing my hair, sleep. I'm not even counting family stuff. I don't think this is mentioned enough when people talk about long workweeks: not only is working long hours a physical and mental strain while you're working, it cuts into your time for basic self-maintenance.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:50 AM on June 16, 2016 [69 favorites]


A job with longer hours generally also means benefits. If you can cap a low level worker's hours you can also deny them benefits, since they're "only" part time workers, at a great cost saving to the company. Cheaper to have two workers at 25 hours and no benefits than a 40 hour worker with benefits. So low income workers are denied the opportunity to work long hours at a single job.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 3:52 AM on June 16, 2016 [11 favorites]


Well, I guess I have to check my "works 10-hour days because my commute is 2 hours each way and has multiple tolls" privilege...

Ok, seriously, I'm fortunate to have a full-time job, and I'm fortunate that the job pays a level I can't really complain about, and to some degree I'm fortunate to have a car at all to commute with. I am rather strongly privileged in that sense, no question about it. I also possess the paleness-and-maleness maximum-privilege duo (and FWIW I know it's real, not just a joke as some of my more conservative colleagues believe).

But my work hours are painfully long specifically because my employer demands long workdays, and is only coincidentally helpful in the sense that otherwise my exhausting commute would be even more grinding, not because I or anyone I know at work desires it. This isn't Japan, where seeing home for only long enough to sleep two hours and shower is a badge of honor among the working class; long work hours here happen because even the ostensibly privileged often can't escape the viciousness of capital (aka "your employer") trying to extract as much from you as possible before casting your used husk aside.
posted by mystyk at 4:18 AM on June 16, 2016 [8 favorites]


The page was "broken" when I went to read it, but from the FPP, it sounds like a fine example of Stockholm Syndrome.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:21 AM on June 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


As much as I love the US, this lunacy is one of the main reasons I could never work there.

I value my 26 days paid leave and 7 national holidays.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 4:31 AM on June 16, 2016 [5 favorites]


A job with longer hours generally also means benefits.

Not always. Where I work, they extend benefits even to people with only a 20-hour workweek, as long as they're going to be there for more than six months. And the family leave and vacation policies are twice that in other companies.

....Granted, a lot of that is no doubt due to the fact that our CEO and half the leadership staff are from Europe and we operate globally, but still.

(I average about 42 hours in a work week, even though I'm only required for 37 and a half hours; I get 20 paid vacation days; and I think next year, at the start of my 3rd year there, that'll bump up to 24 paid vacation days. And I work in HR so my boss is more likely to throw shade if I DON'T use my vacation time. A friend I told this to recently told me to hang on to this job like grim death, and I intend to.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:41 AM on June 16, 2016 [5 favorites]


The things most likely to fall by the wayside when my work week blows past 40 hours: exercise, feeding myself a non-crap dinner, cleaning/laundry/any sort of household chores, washing my hair, sleep. I'm not even counting family stuff. I don't think this is mentioned enough when people talk about long workweeks: not only is working long hours a physical and mental strain while you're working, it cuts into your time for basic self-maintenance.

The irony, of course, is that the expectations for those things increase as you climb the ladder. The women in senior leadership in a number of organizations I have worked in/with are always in perfectly pressed/cleaned clothes, with recent haircuts, perfectly manicured nails and skin, and (typically) thinner, runner-type bodies. Those are the people who've gotten ahead, which then puts the pressure on the women below them who want to get ahead to do those things - and I don't know how anyone has the time to do them all.

Having gone from the ED/Director level in an organization, to independent consultant, to now in-house consultant, I realized how ridiculous all of this is. As a staffer in my org, I can clock in at 8am, out at 4pm, and I am paid well enough that I don't really worry about money. The next step up from me clocks in at 6:30am, out at 6pm, and the pay is about $10k/year more than I make. One level above that is those same hours, but "looking like an executive" - for another $10k/year. Above that is the CEO, who makes something like $160k/year more than I do.

I am cognizant that upward mobility is an expectation in organizations, but if one can find a comfortable living ducking below all of that bullshit, the promise of a job that I may/may not get but might require 10 years of decreased lifestyle for what ends up working out to about $12/hr just doesn't float my boat anymore. I'm privileged to be able to say that, but I also just think any right-thinking person who's watched a parent burnt out by this to the point of nearly dying is going to make different choices and suddenly - finding good leaders might not be so easy anymore.
posted by scrittore at 4:42 AM on June 16, 2016 [23 favorites]


I've seen this in my own working life, as I moved to salaried work. And even within that, there seems to be a clear expectation that people who are promoted will work more. I know more than a few people who either deliberately stalled their career progression at the level where they were happy with the work/life balance for the money, and others who took a demotion in order to recover that balance.

It's not healthy, and I dislike it at a personal level. As others have noted, when workdays go long it is self-care that gets impacted first. I'm ok with it for now, but long term I don't feel like it is personally viable and eventually I will want to figure something else out.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:45 AM on June 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


Busy is the new black.
posted by davebush at 5:02 AM on June 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


I don't really understand how you can even do life if work goes beyond 40 hours a week.
I am contracted for 40 hours a week. Time above that is booked to flex, and I can then use that time later to work less time.
This is a great system for a job with a crunch mode and client booked hours (Which mine does) because it compensates long hours when needed but means that you don't push to work more hours when it isn't because you need the overtime pay.

When things get busy, if I'm working 50 or more hours a week everything suffers. If my wife is also on crunch mode things get nearly impossible. Someone needs to look after the toddler and do the dishes and tidy and launder and clean and shop and do all that personal admin, and if I can't and she can't then stuff starts getting bad.
On top of that there is time needed to exercise, socialise, not go insane and to work on my own projects to pick up new skills and so on.

So I think as a business it's really shooting yourself in the foot to push workers beyond 40, and I'd say you'd probably get more and better work if you didn't go beyond 35.
I wonder where that particular Laffer curve maxes out.
I bet if I only had 30 hours a week I'd be posting less stuff to MeFi.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 5:10 AM on June 16, 2016 [6 favorites]


"The misery of being exploited by capitalists is nothing compared to the misery of not being exploited at all." -- Joan Robinson
posted by mondo dentro at 5:16 AM on June 16, 2016 [6 favorites]


long work hours here happen because even the ostensibly privileged often can't escape the viciousness of capital (aka "your employer") trying to extract as much from you as possible before casting your used husk aside.

That is what the article says, yes.
posted by howfar at 5:21 AM on June 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


Someone needs to look after the toddler and do the dishes and tidy and launder and clean and shop and do all that personal admin

The thing is, that stuff is work too.

I think that's one thing I've learned from MeFi. The labor you do at home counts as work, just as much as your salaried job does. This article misses the point when it says Americans work too much; what it means to say is that too large a portion of our workday is spent outside the house. That makes this seemingly counterintuitive finding not so counter: the more you get paid for your outside-the-house work, the bigger a piece of the workday that's likely to take up.
posted by escabeche at 5:24 AM on June 16, 2016 [30 favorites]


Cheaper to have two workers at 25 hours and no benefits than a 40 hour worker with benefits. So low income workers are denied the opportunity to work long hours at a single job.

Where I work, they extend benefits even to people with only a 20-hour workweek

This is why an arbitrary minimum wage increase across the board is largely symbolic without other reforms in the way benefits are tied to work/hours worked. Doesn't mean it's not something to shoot for, but a few more dollars an hour does very little unless all employers do like EmpressCallipygos's.

Long-term I don't think this is whole "benefits come from your employer" is working out well, since it helps feed the precariousness. But until that's fixed, shouldn't benefits simply be tied to hours worked, regardless of how many/few?
posted by aspersioncast at 5:24 AM on June 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


@aspersioncast: I agree entirely with the idea that employer-funded benefits aren't really the ideal way to go, but in a political climate where absolutely nobody thinks that government-funded anything is a good idea, I don't see how we get rid of it anytime soon. People need those benefits, and they have to come from somewhere.

More to the point though, I think the minimum wage increase is the opposite of symbolic - sure, it doesn't change the whole landscape of low-wage work, but that's still measurable paycheck growth for the people that need it the most. And it seems sort of retrograde to tie all benefits to hours worked if the need for those benefits remains the same.
posted by ColdOfTheIsleOfMan at 5:42 AM on June 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'd be interested to see how much of an impact the rise of the remote workforce has had on longer working hours. Ever since I started working from home full-time, I've noticed it feels like my workdays get longer and longer - probably because they have no definite "start" or "end" time. My laptop is always available and I can log in quickly to check email or work on a project anytime.

And then I notice my boss is online on our company instant messenger, and she's certainly a big part of the problem - because if you log in at 9 PM to check email quick and you see your boss is online, you start to get anxious, should I be working on something? She's obviously working, I should look busy.

She's claimed in the past 'use your vacation days' and harps on 'knowing when to stop for the day,' but that's hard to reconcile with her emails time stamped at 11 PM or midnight. Just earlier this week she chewed out my colleague for not having a project completed up to standards, adding that they could have used Saturday and Sunday to work on it too, since "they knew this was a priority."

The irony here is that the project was an initiative to improve employee morale.

I've applied to two jobs this week and am going to keep looking.
posted by castlebravo at 6:16 AM on June 16, 2016 [19 favorites]


I value my 26 days paid leave and 7 national holidays.

Yes, please value them. Leave time in the US is usually connected to the length of one's employment. Any time you start a new job, you start over on leave time. Since I have been unable to stay at one company for more than five years (for various reasons not my fault), I've never had more than 10 days of vacation time in my 20 years of working.

I'm tired and burned out, and I know I still have it better than a lot of people.

And it isn't right. This report is a few years old but still relevant.
posted by Fleebnork at 6:23 AM on June 16, 2016 [5 favorites]


Well, if everybody lives in sparse suburbs, the alternative is vegetating in front of the TV or playing with some of the things one has bought, before they get thrown out to make room for the next lot.
Honestly, this kind of thing bugs the shit out of me. It's this casual contempt for people who aren't living whatever hip, young, urban lifestyle we're all supposed to think is superior, and it's stupid and provincial. There are many things that people in "sparse suburbs" do with their free time if they have free time. They cook dinner. They play with their kids and help with their homework. They garden. They do DIY projects to improve their homes. They go to Bible study or choir practice. They have book clubs or knitting groups. They take a continuing ed class at the local community college. (I did basic bike repair. It was fun!) They have cookouts and dinner parties. They read. They train for marathons. They have hobbies. It is just not true that there are two kinds of people: hip urbanites and people living lives of quiet desperation, glued to their TVs in suburban hellscapes. If you think there are, that's really your issue.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:23 AM on June 16, 2016 [123 favorites]


The work day wound up being 8 hours for a reason: that's about the maximum amount of time a person can be productive in any job that requires any sort of thinking. Employers are short-changing themselves by attempting to extract more. Eventually, they will recognize this.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 6:23 AM on June 16, 2016 [4 favorites]


So I think as a business it's really shooting yourself in the foot to push workers beyond 40, and I'd say you'd probably get more and better work if you didn't go beyond 35.
I wonder where that particular Laffer curve maxes out.
I bet if I only had 30 hours a week I'd be posting less stuff to MeFi.


I know that there has been research on this in Norway and Sweden, and I tried to find some sources for you guys, but most of it is in Norwegian or Swedish, natch. But here's a couple of articles on 6 hour workdays in Sweden:

ScienceAlert.com: Sweden is shifting to a 6-hour work day
Fast Company: Why Sweden Is Shifting To A 6-Hour Workday

(BTW, both articles are jumping the gun and Sweden is not on the cusp of universal six hour workdays...)
posted by Harald74 at 6:27 AM on June 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


castlebravo: She's claimed in the past 'use your vacation days' and harps on 'knowing when to stop for the day,' but that's hard to reconcile with her emails time stamped at 11 PM or midnight. Just earlier this week she chewed out my colleague for not having a project completed up to standards, adding that they could have used Saturday and Sunday to work on it too, since "they knew this was a priority."

HA! One of my old companies did this constantly. "Work-life balance" was a common phrase on the lips of management, and they'd stress the need for avoiding burnout...then get on people's shit for not working nights and weekends and being at management's beck and call at all hours.

I could never tell if they were aware of the hypocrisy or not. I think some of them knew they were being horrible and spouted the "work-life balance is important!" rhetoric so they could tell themselves they were humane managers who "cared about their people." (Talking about virtue is the same as being virtuous, doncha know.) The others simply didn't notice the dissonance between rhetoric and practice. Saying "go home at 5PM" and "this product is due tomorrow and has to be perfect" don't have to conflict, amirite? -cough-
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 6:28 AM on June 16, 2016 [4 favorites]


Yes, please value them. Leave time in the US is usually connected to the length of one's employment. Any time you start a new job, you start over on leave time. Since I have been unable to stay at one company for more than five years (for various reasons not my fault), I've never had more than 10 days of vacation time in my 20 years of working.

Wow, that is nuts. There are better companies even in the US system. I got 18 days of leave to start (plus national holidays) and 23 days after three years or two promotions, whichever came first. If I get promoted a couple more times I'll get 28 days.
posted by peacheater at 6:40 AM on June 16, 2016


acb: Well, if everybody lives in sparse suburbs, the alternative is vegetating in front of the TV or playing with some of the things one has bought, before they get thrown out to make room for the next lot.

This is such typical MetaFilter urban provincial bullshit that I don't even know where to start. I live in the suburbs. You know what I did when I got home from work, just the day after yesterday? One, two, three. And that wasn't even a weekend! That was Monday evening!

Seriously, get out of your cities. If you really think that everyone living out in suburban and rural America is some kind of idiotic mindless Trump-fucking consumer moron (which is absolutely what it sounds like you are saying I am, which is why I am pissed right now) then you are living in a tiny little bubble and you have no fucking idea what is going on outside of the few square miles in which you live and you should shut the fuck up.

Do I come into threads on NYC or San Fransisco and talk about how you're all a bunch of cockroaches and rats living cheek-by-jowl in a noisy, polluted, concrete wasteland where nothing beautiful or natural can possibly survive? No I do not. (And this thread isn't even about the burbs to begin with!) So stop it with the fucking bullshit ignorant prejudice against people who happen not to live in cities. You're perpetuating some seriously unjust negative stereotypes, and it makes you look like an idiot and a jerk.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:41 AM on June 16, 2016 [53 favorites]


There are many things that people in "sparse suburbs" do with their free time if they have free time.

I guess experiences differ but I lived in the suburbs for nine years and I could never figure out anything interesting to do there other than watch TV and play video games.
posted by octothorpe at 6:49 AM on June 16, 2016 [8 favorites]


You know what I did when I got home from work, just the day after yesterday? One, two, three.

I don't see a single craft cocktail in those photos, you suburban drone!
posted by escabeche at 6:50 AM on June 16, 2016 [26 favorites]


The leave time system is pretty industry-dependent. In more exploitative industries, PTO is still nonexistent or close to it. I didn't get any PTO at all my first year, I get one week per year of PTO right now, and when I've been here for five years I'll get two weeks per year. That's pretty good for my industry, where the standard is still "if you wanna get paid, you gotta work." My industry is seasonal and weather-dependent as well, so if there's no work that day, or if you're sick, or you have a family emergency, then too bad. It comes out of your pocket.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:51 AM on June 16, 2016


Escabeche, that's because I cropped the craft beer and *cough* *cough* out of my photos so that I could post them on social media.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:52 AM on June 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


I live in a city but in a residential neighborhood a mile and a half (a topographically challenging mile and a half, because Pittsburgh) or so away from the the real hip happening urban scene and after my 7.5 hours of work and 15-30 minute commute (depending on where I parked and whether I have to get my son from daycare), I make dinner, eat dinner with my family, play outside in the yard with my son, relax and look at the internet and then, yes, collapse in front of the TV because working full time in a client-facing role and raising a 4-year-old is tiring. On the weekends, I care for my vegetable and flower gardens and my chickens and take my kid to the pool or the playground. I haven't seen the inside of a bar for about 5 years because I'm 41 years old and loud music makes my head hurt. For various reasons I prefer to live in the city, but kindly gtfo with "what do people even do if they aren't in bars mixing it up with the scensters???" You grow up, you get hobbies that involve nature or your family or your garage woodshop. None of these things are tied to a particular place.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:53 AM on June 16, 2016 [16 favorites]


Wow, that is nuts. There are better companies even in the US system. I got 18 days of leave to start (plus national holidays) and 23 days after three years or two promotions, whichever came first.

That is most definitely not the norm in the US, outside of tech, finance and maybe biotech. Most people get 1 or 2 weeks.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:02 AM on June 16, 2016 [7 favorites]


Well, if everybody lives in sparse suburbs, the alternative is vegetating in front of the TV or playing with some of the things one has bought, before they get thrown out to make room for the next lot.

Okay, on the one hand I get that this is condescending. On the other hand, my parents moved from the old train-based commuter suburb where I grew up to a new-build that wasn't on the train line due to my mother's job. (And then she got sick and had to get on disability, so.) I actually spent some months off and on living there over a few years when I finished school and then again when I had some job changes. So I've lived in both places.

The sparse suburb was super hard to get around. You needed a car, it was split up by giant roads with no pedestrian crossings, if you were walking you would need to go through at least a mile of nothing-but-houses-at-all to get to even the smallest convenience store. The grocery stores, the library and all the stuff were all clustered together, which might sound good but it meant that everything was far away from everyone who didn't live right by the cluster, and every trip required crossing multiple big roads. And of course, there was nothing except the grocery stores, the library, a private gym and then you could always drive down the highway to the Target and similar big box stuff.

I'm not talking about "oh, I couldn't get an artisanal cocktail by walking three blocks to the upscale pedestrian arcade"; I'm talking about how there was absolutely zippo in terms of public space.

I actually walked a lot while I was there because my parents, naturally, had the car during the day. I was there in the summer a couple of times. I never saw anyone walking. I very rarely saw people outside. It was deathly quiet at all times. It was like Camazotz. There weren't kids on bikes, or kids playing in the yards. There weren't adults strolling around. There wasn't a busy public park. There weren't public tennis courts.

I actually used to walk a couple of miles every day around and around the nicely landscaped corporate complex about 1/4 mile from my parents' house - there was a big pond with a winding path. I very seldom saw anyone walking there, either, and I was there on weekdays and weekends, daytime and evenings. It was lonely and a little creepy, actually, but I wanted the exercise.

There were plenty of people in my parents' little cul-de-sac but everyone kept to themselves. My parents lived there for maybe ten years and knew one guy.

My parents had a nice house - it was all fairly nice new-build (I mean, not total 'ruins in twenty years' garbage) and relatively affordable due to location. It was during this time that my parents build up a really extensive DVD collection.

Obviously, this situation wasn't because everyone was spiritually dead or something - it was totally an artifact of terrible, sad design. But it was shockingly, shockingly different from the walking suburb where I grew up - we knew the people on our block, we lived near a large public park and a large athletic field, public events were held at the park (sometimes noisy! not all upside.), the library was one mile one way, the grocery stores were about a mile another way, there was a small downtown by the train station, you'd always see cyclists, there were a couple of small commercial districts where large roads came together and there was only one really big and scary road through town, and even that had stoplights and crossings every two blocks.

The texture of life was very, very different in the two places and my parents' lives changed when they moved.

And if anything, the second suburb was richer than the first.
posted by Frowner at 7:06 AM on June 16, 2016 [37 favorites]


Anyway, this is one of the many reasons I plan on hanging on to my current job like grim death. I will not be getting rich working here, nor will I be gaining mountains of professional prestige, but by god I do not work more than 37.5 hours a week, ever and I get enough vacation time that I keep maxing out (it's 10 days to start, but that's on top of 10 days of sick time, and 3 personal days, and the entire university shuts down for ~2 weeks around Christmas and New Years). My manager is perhaps the most effective manager I've ever encountered in the wild and he's most definitely of the opinion that if our team can't get our work done in 7.5 hours a day, there's something seriously amiss.

He's currently taking a 3 month parental leave. The department is running just fine. He definitely practices what he preaches. But I think that's probably because he's coming out of consultancy and decided that that way of doing things is a bunch of hideous BS, despite the handfuls of money that get thrown at people who do it.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:12 AM on June 16, 2016 [9 favorites]


I actually walked a lot while I was there because my parents, naturally, had the car during the day. I was there in the summer a couple of times. I never saw anyone walking. I very rarely saw people outside. It was deathly quiet at all times. It was like Camazotz. There weren't kids on bikes, or kids playing in the yards. There weren't adults strolling around. There wasn't a busy public park. There weren't public tennis courts.
I actually used to walk a couple of miles every day around and around the nicely landscaped corporate complex about 1/4 mile from my parents' house - there was a big pond with a winding path. I very seldom saw anyone walking there, either, and I was there on weekdays and weekends, daytime and evenings. It was lonely and a little creepy, actually, but I wanted the exercise. There were plenty of people in my parents' little cul-de-sac but everyone kept to themselves. My parents lived there for maybe ten years and knew one guy.


This matches the suburb where my parents currently live. Everything is so spread out and I feel trapped there when I visit because there is no reliable public transport, no public parks or playgrounds or tennis courts or anything. They've been there for a bit and only know one neighbour. My sister's suburb five minutes away (no sidewalks so I have to have her come get me in her car if I want to visit) and I see people playing basketball in their driveways or mowing their lawns, but no one is walking around their own neighbourhood.

Listen, I have no love for the suburbs. It's not my jam. I grew up in them my entire life and all I ever wanted was to GTFO. But I don't judge people for wanting to live in them either. They're safe. They're relatively affordable. They're quiet. I mean, I live in a small city in an intown neighbourhood, so I guess I'm sort of urban again? I am a twenty minute walk through parks/older houses/some sketchy bits to my downtown area, but it's what works for me. If I had my druthers (and money), I would love to live again in a proper large city. My sister loves living in her suburb. Different strokes for different folks.
posted by Kitteh at 7:21 AM on June 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


Agreed with Kitteh; I personally know I couldn't live in the suburbs, but by the same token, I also know that "it's not you, it's me." I've known since I was about twelve that I would do best either in a city, where there were so many other people around that almost nobody noticed or cared what I did, or in the absolute middle of nowhere, where most of the time nobody could see what I did; the suburbs were this middleground of enough people to poke their nose in my business but not enough to avoid everyone ganging up on me.

But none of that is about what there is to do in smaller towns. People do socialize in smaller towns. They do stuff. They do make friends with their neighbors. And that is something I do miss about living in the city sometimes.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:26 AM on June 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


It is just not true that there are two kinds of people: hip urbanites and people living lives of quiet desperation, glued to their TVs in suburban hellscapes.

This has already been pretty solidly discussed and it might be time to re-rail things, but a couple more points:

- You can live in a city and still be boring. I've lived in various hip urban neighborhoods all my adult life and I'd still rather knit or play video games most nights.

- People don't necessarily live in the suburbs out of love for Kohl's and Olive Garden and filling their SUVs; they often do it because cities are fucking expensive. There are so many people in my town who are reluctantly moving out because they can't afford $600K for a cardboard box under the highway filled with lead paint and asbestos and crappy wiring.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:35 AM on June 16, 2016 [17 favorites]


Not to mention that, for parents, the suburbs present a schooling scenario that is simpler by orders of magnitude than most cities. The idea of having your kids apply to middle school, for example, seems totally bonkers if you were raised in a suburban feeder system.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:44 AM on June 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


“The reward for toil had been more toil. If you dug the best ditches, they gave you a bigger shovel.”

― Terry Pratchett, Carpe Jugulum
posted by mikelieman at 7:46 AM on June 16, 2016 [20 favorites]


I guess experiences differ but I lived in the suburbs for nine years and I could never figure out anything interesting to do there other than watch TV and play video games.

To be fair, I'm an urbanite in the absolute core of a national capital with a population of over a million people and am surrounded by people bemoaning how there's nothing interesting to do in our downtown and who watch TV and play video games most nights. Given the hundreds of potential hobbies and interests, I think ingenuity is a bigger driver of what you have at your disposal than geography. None of us have tried all the things enough to have rejected them all as not interesting.

Further - I think people fall somewhere on a spectrum ranging from always needing to be entertained all the way to being totally able to entertain one's self fully. The latter will thrive everywhere (urban or suburban) - a music festival, loading a kayak into a river, gardening at home. The former - they need to be in the core of a place where there are bars, restaurants, music venues, etc. to keep them stimulated and to do the work of entertaining for them.

One of the reasons teenagers I think hate the suburbs so much is your life is fully consumed by being entertained/needing to be seen that you cannot find woodworking at home, listening to a baseball game, rad as hell. That point comes later when you stop giving a fuck what other people think about you.
posted by scrittore at 7:58 AM on June 16, 2016 [5 favorites]


And then there's this article that says that time-starved people are happier.
posted by Kitteh at 7:59 AM on June 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


The problem is that if one wants to keep a high-paying, white collar office job, there's no choice of working less hours for less pay. I would love to work 4 days a week and get 20% less pay. But what that would mean is the workload will stay the same, the deadlines will stay the same, I will just be working longer hours those 4 days. Oh, and you can say goodbye to any promotions or good performance reviews.
posted by shala at 8:04 AM on June 16, 2016 [4 favorites]


I was hourly at my last position, with a cap of 39 hours per week. My boss, HR, everybody, would lose their collective shit if I logged more than 39 hours a week. However, I was doing a job that had previously been done by 4 people. It was humanly impossible to do the amount of work I needed to do in 39 hours per week. Anytime I brought this up, the only reaction was a shrug and some variation on "Well, that's the job, all of it needs to be done, and if you don't feel you can do it there are lots of people out there who would be more than glad to give it a try."
So, my only choices were joblessness or sneaking to work extra unpaid hours.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:22 AM on June 16, 2016 [5 favorites]


It is just not true that there are two kinds of people: hip urbanites and people living lives of quiet desperation, glued to their TVs in suburban hellscapes.

Actually: both can be equally and/or simultaneously true. All Americans living in suburbs are not necessarily living lives of busy productivity and glorious fulfillment, nor does it mean that all hip urbanites are living the dream either.

I live in Nashville, which is a particularly perfect example of an urban core that has suddenly become hipster paradise at the expense of the "suburban" ring around it. The "hipsters" I see don't look all that happy, necessarily; they are always dodging tourists and complaining that while downtown has lots and lots of bars and restaurants and condos and nightlife, it has almost no other amenities that you need to live (hello, supermarkets? gas stations? parks? green space?). I see "hipsters" walking their poor dogs in teensy little slivers of carved-out artificial green space next to the river while cranes continue to multiply just across the boulevard, with yet another condo highrise that no reasonably paid person is ever going to afford a spot in. Downtown traffic is a nightmare even if you don't drive: if you're a bicyclist or a pedestrian, you stand a good chance of being severely injured or killed by a driver, distracted or otherwise.

By the same token, I live in a suburban cul-de-sac, and while it's quiet, pleasant, peaceful, and nice, there's also very little to do that doesn't involve getting in a car and driving somewhere, in good part because of the way the urban geography militates so insistently against pedestrian or other non-vehicular activity (no road shoulders or sidewalks, evil 40mph+ speed limits on secondary roads, no crosswalks, no collective space for outdoor enjoyment within walking distance, no amenities within walking distance, etc.). I see a lot of folks mowing their lawns on summer nights and during the the weekend because they're bored out of their ever-loving minds, and not many people seem to actually know each other very well. That's not a Hollywood-invented American Beauty myth. I'm living in it.

Sometimes it's true that all there is to do is sit in front of the tube and play video games, unless you want to get in a car and sit in traffic and drive to where the "hipsters" are -- and some of us can't or don't want to do what's hip anymore either.
posted by blucevalo at 8:28 AM on June 16, 2016 [9 favorites]


There is a definite expectation of long work hours if you have made it into the executive class in most organizations. Middle Management might still have something resembling a life but if you want to make it into the executive level in many organizations you have to work tons of hours in order to even be considered for promotion and you can only do so much ladder climbing by switching jobs rapidly.

Douchebros in marketing might still be able to do the long lunch and get to play golf and attend sporting events but even then the higher ups in marketing areas in mature workplace settings (I don't want to hear horror stories about Silicon Valley marketing types) tend to work ridiculous hours and even when they are doing "fun things" they are pretty much in the "always be closing" mode.

My job requires a lot less of my time than my wife's job (who is an executive) and as a result I've been able to take on a large share of the housework and other tasks in order to give her more time to actually take care of herself and the overflow from work and also be a good mom but I don't see how many people manage it especially in situations where both partners are career-minded and want to actually have decent family time and cover other social obligations.

Add to that the absolute requirement for women in the executive class to be basically way more perfect than their peers (dry cleaned and expensive wardrobe because you can't get by with owning like 4 suits, reasonably slim and fit - seriously how many heavier female executives do you know, flawless work performance often achieved through long hours, plus the expectation of doing all the office housework even though we'd never expect male executives to do that sort of thing) plus the likely demands on their time outside of work (women are still generally expected by our culture to be the primary caregivers for children and elderly parents, housework share is rarely even, etc) and there is a reason why books like Lean In tend to be seen in a negatively light by many female executives and middle managers because I doubt that it would be even possible for them to lean in more.

We like to talk about work-life balance all the time and I think there is even a growing body of literature that suggests that more hours doesn't mean that those are particularly productive hours, i.e. there is definitely a point of diminishing returns in terms of hours people work in a week yet for all the power point presentations there is still very much a culture of overwork in most US based organization and it starts at the top down.

If you are a CEO and you want to show that you are creating a human centered business culture with good work life balance you need to model it which means actually taking vacations, not answering emails at 3am, not promoting based upon quantity of hours worked but quality of work, etc. Until that sort of attitude becomes more commonplace the trend towards ridiculous work hours will continue.
posted by vuron at 8:29 AM on June 16, 2016 [9 favorites]


i miss Faze
posted by griphus at 8:31 AM on June 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


Well, wait. Can we back up for a minute? The comment that started this entire city vs. suburbs thing was:

Actual serendipitous social interaction is not on the agenda

acb wasn't saying anything about "hipness". I don't know how anyone could disagree that the contemporary form of American suburb--extremely car-dependent with nothing within walking distance and therefore no reason to walk--is pretty much designed to make the sort of serendipitous social interaction that is a hallmark of towns and cities impossible. Like, the person who posted what they did in the suburbs, which included... two sunset shots and a dude (who he/she presumably already had some sort of relationship with) standing around a fire. That's lovely, but it's also proving acb's point.

Some people like cities. Some people like suburbs. That's fine! But we need healthier surburbs.

My family all still live in the suburbs. I know what they do. They sit around the house and watch TV.
posted by Automocar at 8:39 AM on June 16, 2016 [12 favorites]


I live in Nashville, which is a particularly perfect example of an urban core that has suddenly become hipster paradise at the expense of the "suburban" ring around it.

I was catching up on my feeds today and read a couple of posts about how (and stop me if you've heard this one before) the city seems to be trying to recreate the feel of San Francisco at the expense of current residents who are paying for the development and reaping none of the rewards.

That's fine! But we need healthier surburbs.

I agree with this, but I do think for a lot of people, the appeal of the suburbs isn't just that they're cheaper, it's that they're more sparse, and it's hard to make a healthy suburb without increasing density beyond what most existing residents want. I don't see any easy answers here that don't involve some people being pushed beyond their comfort zones, and very few people want to be the ones in the petri dish, which creates a bootstrapping problem for better suburbs.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:46 AM on June 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


I could never tell if they were aware of the hypocrisy or not.

I remain fond (or "fond") of the essential wisdom of the Gervais Principle that breaks corporate "human capital" into a taxonomy of Sociopaths, Suckers, and Losers.

So with the the "work-life balance" buzzwording hypocrisy, some are certainly aware of the hypocrisy, they just don't give a shit; they're the Sociopaths. Some are aware of the hypocrisy and might even admit it when pressed hard, but what can they do? They have to go along to get along and oh sorry let's loop back and take this offline? They're the Suckers. And of course there's everyone else who're locked into the no-win system to varying strengths of locks.

I'm among the lucky small choir who've lucked into employment where I'll be damned if I'll put in more than 40ish hours in a week and am holding on to that situation tight, to the tune of once or twice outright telling my manager "well, et me know if I'm still here Monday, I suppose, because I certainly won't be this weekend" on occasion, which is a luxury I treasure while it's lasting. I've passed up several "upwardly mobile" opportunities, because I've no illusions about all the unspoken costs that it'd enact. I see friends and loved ones who are certainly in higher income brackets than I am these days, but the stress they're under from it, the exhaustion, the damage they do to themselves and their own lives and loved ones, and I can only shake my head.
posted by Drastic at 8:47 AM on June 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


Regarding suburban living-

People live where they can get their needs met- Want a hip urban lifestyle in a city center? Be prepared to either have to be incredibly rich or not have access to many things that are more or less required if you want to have kids. Have kids? You look for the the housing that offers access to good schools and possibly has a decent chance of appreciating in value if you are looking to be a home owner.

People move out to the suburbs because that is the way that they can get their kids into good public schools and actually still pay for housing. In many cases this results in massive subdivisions where everyone is more or less in similar homes and income brackets because greenfield building is much easier and much more profitable in many cases than infill in established neighborhoods. Building in older neighborhoods closer to the urban core typically comes with some of the negative impacts of gentrification or in the case of good neighborhoods results in the phenomenon of people buying up teardowns and then building massive homes which is largely the domain of the wealthy.

Suburban Livable Communities- Many communities absolutely prefer single-family dwellings even though they result in ridiculous levels of sprawl because multi-family dwellings outside of luxury condos are still viewed negatively in many communities and they also tend to be hard to build because of NIMBY attitudes.

As long as zoning and planning commissions tend to focus on single family dwellings we will continue to get lots of unwalkable communities where everyone lives in maximum square footage, zero lot line, HOA hell, suburban McMansions and everyone's idea of a fun friday night is going to the Applebee's for dinner.

Tax policies that favor homeownership- Mortgage interest deduction is a massive driver of urban sprawl (and also escalating home prices). The primary wealth generation mechanism for most Americans is owning their own home and policies have encouraged this for decades even though it has massive negative externalities. Current tax policies towards home ownership more or less tacitly encourage buying the maximum home you can afford because it reduces your overall tax burden and for most people the maximum home that you can afford is in newer suburban communities.
posted by vuron at 8:49 AM on June 16, 2016 [4 favorites]


This is reminding me of the conversations I've been having lately about how I will never get a house. It'll never be a financial option for me anyway, but also, if I wanted a house I would HAVE to live in a tiny suburban town far away from anything fun, with next to nothing to do there. I grew up somewhere like that, and I didn't drive and I couldn't go anywhere without help and there wasn't much to do if you got out. I pay too much for where I rent because it's close to fun things to do and my job and is in a town where things happen. Sure, I have to commute to the nearest city to do more major things and I do that 2-3 days a week, but that still beats having to commute every single day from Small Boring Town With My House to work, followed by doing the same every night to go to the theater or do some other thing, because I always have to leave town to do what I want to do. I wouldn't be spending much time in my house except to sleep because I wouldn't want to be in Small Boring Town, so what's the point?
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:00 AM on June 16, 2016 [4 favorites]


As long as zoning and planning commissions tend to focus on single family dwellings we will continue to get lots of unwalkable communities where everyone lives in maximum square footage, zero lot line, HOA hell, suburban McMansions and everyone's idea of a fun friday night is going to the Applebee's for dinner.

I will say, though, that classic American streetcar suburbs usually featured single-family houses on side streets with ground-floor shopping and apartments above on the streets the streetcars ran. You see this development pattern most clearly in places on the East Coast. Also, the city I currently live in, Portland, used to have an extensive streetcar system that created the built environment of the city to this day. Streets that streetcars used to run on have things to do and shops, and then blocks away you have single-family houses, but those houses were never more than a 10-minute walk from the commercial street. Yeah, the houses are not as big or as far apart as what you'll find in modern car-dependent suburbs, but I don't think that's a bad thing.
posted by Automocar at 9:06 AM on June 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


White collar workers are (have been) the new lumpenproletariat. So many think they're bourgeois, without seeming to understand what that really means.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:07 AM on June 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


I was hourly at my last position, with a cap of 39 hours per week. My boss, HR, everybody, would lose their collective shit if I logged more than 39 hours a week.

At least half of my husband's department (including him) regularly work 12-hour days, but are only allowed to claim 8 hours on their timesheets. They are all non-exempt hourly workers. Once in a while, overtime will be approved, but it is expected to be extremely rare.

It's an open secret. The supervisors know that they are regularly working unpaid hours. Not sure how high up the management chain this goes. When he first started the job, I was so angry about the situation. I thought of several AskMe threads where people would recommend reporting this kind of violation for non-exempt workers to a regulatory body.

The thing is, I was terrified of him losing this job if we did report it. He had been working in crappy-paying jobs for years, particularly given his industry experience and military background. This was the first decent-paying job in a long time. Officially, retaliation would be illegal, but antagonistic working conditions can be subtly created and just legal-enough to fall under the radar, but would nevertheless worsen conditions. So he is sticking it out.

I really think there are far more labour law violations than official statistics suggest. And far too many people like us who are too terrified to report it.
posted by cynical pinnacle at 9:12 AM on June 16, 2016 [10 favorites]


> The work day wound up being 8 hours for a reason: that's about the maximum amount of time a person can be productive in any job that requires any sort of thinking. Employers are short-changing themselves by attempting to extract more. Eventually, they will recognize this.

The work day in the United States wound up being 8 hours for a reason: that was the concession the unions of the early 20th century, whose members fought (and often died) for a shorter work week, were able to extract from employers. If labor is stronger, the work week is shorter; if labor is weaker, the work week is longer. If labor is stronger, being a worker is more tolerable; if labor is weaker, being an employer is more profitable.

Although we may like to tell just-so stories about employers and employees being on the same side, looking out together for our mutual interests, on the whole, in most fields, the way for employers to extract the maximum value from employees is to make them work as long and as intensely as humanly possible — and the limits of the human capacity for labor are well beyond eight hours a day five days a week.

The ideal, of course, is slave labor, which on the whole is vastly more profitable than wage labor. This is why it took a bloody and protracted war to (sort of) end de facto slavery in the United States; if slave labor weren't more efficient than wage labor, wage labor could have simply outcompeted it.

>I was hourly at my last position, with a cap of 39 hours per week. My boss, HR, everybody, would lose their collective shit if I logged more than 39 hours a week. However, I was doing a job that had previously been done by 4 people. It was humanly impossible to do the amount of work I needed to do in 39 hours per week. Anytime I brought this up, the only reaction was a shrug and some variation on "Well, that's the job, all of it needs to be done, and if you don't feel you can do it there are lots of people out there who would be more than glad to give it a try."
So, my only choices were joblessness or sneaking to work extra unpaid hours.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:22 AM on June 16 [2 favorites +] [!]
.

This is wage theft, and it's the fuel that the modern American economy runs on. It's pandemic — Americans lose billions of dollars a year to it, much more than we lose to street crime. Why is wage theft pandemic? Wage theft is pandemic because extracting value from your workers without paying them is, for obvious reasons, more profitable than having to compensate your workers for their time. Because wage theft is so profitable, employers that fail to steal from their employees will tend to be outcompeted by employers that steal.

The ideal, of course, is slavery, but if slavery is impossible, wage theft is a reasonable makeshift alternative.

Wage theft is technically illegal, but the laws against it are more or less totally unenforced, and, of course, any worker who by themselves attempts to report the crimes of their thieving employers can expect nothing from it but a firing.

Really, if there's anything that unites all workers in America, it's that we're all subject to systematized theft from employers. We're a nation of hourly office employees made to misreport our timesheets without complaint, of warehouse workers who clock out and then go back to work, of "salaried" employees in positions that legally should be hourly, of day laborers whose employers — oops! — forget to pay at the end of the day, and of waitresses and waiters whose bosses steal our tips.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:13 AM on June 16, 2016 [37 favorites]


Leave time in the US is usually connected to the length of one's employment. Any time you start a new job, you start over on leave time.

That's completely negotiable, at least in salaried white-collar jobs it is, and if you don't ask you don't get.

I've always pushed on salary as hard as I could during the offer phase, and as soon as we hit an impasse I've then started to negotiate more vacation time. Most H/R managers don't think twice about giving you another week if it means you're okay on the salary.

IMO it's even easier to talk about than money. You begin with "well, how much vacation time would a 20 year vet have within your organization? 3 weeks? Let's start there."
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:22 AM on June 16, 2016


I've had a lot more luck negotiating salary than time off. Everywhere I've worked the PTO accrual rate was set in stone and HR had zero leeway to give you more.

My current employer does allow you to buy a certain number of PTO days at the beginning of the year, effectively lowering your pay for the year in exchange for extra time off.
posted by octothorpe at 9:27 AM on June 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


I work in a non-executive position at one of those sexy tech companies where everyone works >40 hours a week. It's just expected, both in terms of your presence at meetings that span 10-hour work days and in terms of the amount of work you output. There are, of course, many perks given at such companies: a month of PTO, unlimited sick leave, great pay, on-site drycleaning, free meals. Because honestly, those things do help reduce the burden of being on the job for so many hours of the day.

The downside is, people who want a regular 40 hour (or less) work week don't have many other options that hit any sort of sweet spot.
- I have worked in consulting, which gave me a little more control over my hours and paid well, but I was never allowed to take my earned PTO because "the client needs you around".

- There are companies where you are allowed to take PTO but your PTO bucket is also where your sick leave comes from, and one bad flu season will completely wipe that out.

- There are companies where you get barely any PTO and it takes years to accumulate even that measly amount.

- I've even worked at companies where PTO is use-it-or-lose it AND borrowing future PTO isn't allowed so at the beginning of the year you have 0 hours and can't possibly save up enough to take more than a day off until about June.

So basically, it feels like there's no middle ground if you want a 40 hour work week and time to recharge for more than a weekend that doesn't significantly cost you one way or another.
posted by joan_holloway at 9:30 AM on June 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


Older east coast towns or neighborhoods that were built before the proliferation of the automobile are definitely built around a different set of design principles.

You have to work within commute distance of your job and when you had to commute via streetcar, train and omnibus (horse driven bus) you needed to be able to live within walking distance of the the bus/streetcar stop or in the case of really early suburbs a train station. You also needed to have stuff like groceries in a relatively short walking distance because as many of the urban poor can probably tell you having to carry groceries home on a bus sucks beyond belief.

Because you had a finite amount of area to build in you typically had to build in much higher densities which means building up and building around smaller apartment based housing. Add in a lack of central air and a need for recreation spaces. This is why in many east coast cities you can still see lots of dumbbell style tenements because they create decent airflows and they offer moderately decent density which was about the limit in pre-elevator buildings. Thus we gets lots of walk-ups these days.

Fortunately people also seemed to realize that cramped tenements were unhealthy and while germ theory of disease was around the miasma theory was still a competitor until the 1890s or so. The urban planners of that time struggled to create a solution for the need for urban recreation spaces but with creation of urban parks like Central Park a lot of the needs for urban recreation were met.

I'd like to see a return to many of those elements and walkable communities are definitely becoming much more popular but the challenges of raising kids in urban areas (safety concerns and schooling concerns) tend to limit walkable community development to areas focused on younger upscale urbanites and to a lesser extent DINKs. Even then there is definitely pressure in many cases to transfer any equity (if you own your condo) into a suburban home at some point.

I really can't see the situation getting much better until we do something to improve the quality of education in urban public schools. White Flight is still very much a thing although it tends to be white people moving out of older suburbs now instead of the urban core. Even if you aren't neccesarily racist yourself the desire to get your kids into good public schools is a massive driver into upscale largely white neighborhoods in the suburbs.

Yes some of the biggest cities have fairly big populations of economic elites that choose to live in a city center even with children (I have some acquaintances that do this in Manhattan due to their need to be in very specific industries) but the number of people that can afford living in a urban home that is remotely kid friendly and also send their kids to extremely expensive urban private academies is still pretty small in most of the US.

So the retreat to boring lame suburbs where everyone barely knows their neighbors and most of the leisure time is based around watching TV or playing on the computer will continue. I think most people kind of realize that they are trapped in a horribly dull and unfun existence but mortgages tend to make cowards of everyone so lives of quiet desperation will continue.

On the bright side because modern cost of living has basically resulted in the norm being two working parents the old model of quiet suburban despair inflicted on women as depicted in shows like mad men has largely vanished.
posted by vuron at 9:35 AM on June 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


While I currently experience none of the misery described in the article, it took me two decades plus to finally reach this point. That is, accumulate enough professional skills to get a job where I didn't have to do grunt work, establish enough relationships that I could advance professionally, and be lucky enough to wind up at a company owned by a European parent company. As a result, shitty benefits became better, promotion from within returned (aka, no more jumping from job to job), vacation, sick, and personal days are separate things again instead of the American practice of just making everything PTO, and long hours became a thing of the past. The amazing this is that a company that doesn't treat their employees like shit is actually profitable, has a great culture because everybody isn't stressed, retains its employees (low turnover, and employees that do leave often return and are welcomed back), and still makes all deliverables to their clients.

I will ride this wave until retirement if I can.

During those previous two decades, I often worked earlier that 8am, and often way beyond 5pm, was routinely called during dinner, kid's events, weekends, and holidays, and dealt with a general expectation of availability that started at unreasonable and escalated to ridiculous. I suffered through it hoping to go from each job to the next with no burned bridges, good references, and wound up facing the same thing again and again, just differently nuanced at each job. I don't miss any of it one bit.
posted by prepmonkey at 9:36 AM on June 16, 2016


Yeah it seems like many of the European owned companies in the US (at least those with a defined corporate culture) tend to be a lot better about this sort of thing. Yes there are some negative characteristics and unfortunately many European employers seem to be slowly adopting some of the dysfunctional elements of American corporate culture.

I wouldn't necessarily say that maintaining a good work life balance is mandated at some of the American subsidiaries of European firms but there seems to be a better job about not getting stuck into the first into the office in the morning last to leave at night expectations that are so common with many US employers.

At least that seems to be what I've heard from white collar workers, I have no expectation that people working retail at Ikea have it much better than at US based retailers.
posted by vuron at 9:51 AM on June 16, 2016


The labor you do at home counts as work, just as much as your salaried job does. This article misses the point when it says Americans work too much; what it means to say is that too large a portion of our workday is spent outside the house. That makes this seemingly counterintuitive finding not so counter: the more you get paid for your outside-the-house work, the bigger a piece of the workday that's likely to take up.

How to Fix Feminism - "Hillary Clinton's generation aimed to free women from domestic prisons. But work is a prison, too."
What if the world was set up in such a way that we could really believe — not just pretend to — that having spent a period of time concentrating on raising children at the expense of future earnings would bring us respect? And what if that could be as true for men as it is for women?

[...]

“We have worked enough,” they wrote. “We have chopped billions of tons of cotton, washed billions of dishes, scrubbed billions of floors, typed billions of words, wired billions of radio sets, washed billions of nappies, by hand and in machines.” So what did they want? I asked Silvia Federici, a founder of the New York chapter of Wages for Housework who writes prolifically on these questions. Actual wages for housework aside, she said, the movement wanted to make people ask themselves, “Why is producing cars more valuable than producing children?”

The expectation that all mothers will work has been especially hard on single mothers. When Franklin D. Roosevelt established the welfare program Aid to Dependent Children in 1935 it was a given that poor single mothers would tend to their young (poor single white mothers, I should say, because black women were expected to hold jobs)...

IN an important new book, “Finding Time,” the economist Heather Boushey argues that the failure of government and businesses to replace the services provided by “America’s silent partner” — the stay-at-home wife — is dampening productivity and checking long-term economic growth. A company that withholds family leave may drive away a hard-to-replace executive. Overstressed parents lack the time and patience to help children develop the skills they need to succeed. “Today’s children are tomorrow’s work force,” Ms. Boushey writes. “What happens inside families is just as important to making the economy hum along as what happens inside firms.”
posted by kliuless at 9:56 AM on June 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


I was catching up on my feeds today and read a couple of posts about how (and stop me if you've heard this one before) the city seems to be trying to recreate the feel of San Francisco at the expense of current residents who are paying for the development and reaping none of the rewards.

It is, because the only way the "hipsters" will want to come to Middle Tennessee, which is nothing climatically like the Bay Area (from where I came to Nashville) -- dreary, cold, bitter winters full of rain and sometimes immobilizing ice; long, agonizingly uncomfortable summers with astronomically high temps and even higher torture-chamber humidity; a spring that lasts about three weeks tops -- and which also has drivers who can't drive and almost no communal amenities like good public transit that SF Bay-ites would take for granted, so you have to buy a car to survive and not go insane here -- is to try to mimic the "feel" of the Bay Area in the downtown core, i.e., draining all the resources from the starved non-core areas and turning the downtown into a congested, congealed artificial paradise for tourists and transplants from coastal cities.

But the state legislature, which by the way is rabidly uncongenial to the politics of most coastal transplants (something which those transplants never take into account before moving here) and in fact would burn the city to the ground if it weren't for the sweet away-from-their-constituency-shithole luxuries it provides them, never gives over any money to improving the public good and also immediately nixes any chances the city has of partnering with federal agencies to get said money. So you can tell where I'm going here. Bay Area "feel," absolutely zilch in terms of common city-oriented goods like public transit, museums, green space, plazas, etc., etc. Win-win!
posted by blucevalo at 10:02 AM on June 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


My father was a private-sector union pipefitter for almost his entire adult working life, and by and large I think it served him well. The job had its drawbacks, but when the whistle blew at the end of the day, both he and my mother (a credit union teller) were *finished work* and could come home and live their lives as they saw fit until they were scheduled to arrive the next day, without fear of negative reactions or retribution from management or co-workers.

I got only a few years into the working world before I realized that a union job was the best (these days, the only?) way for me to live a similar lifestyle, and focused all of my efforts on getting one. Like my dad's, my job is not perfect but it does not rule my life...and once I'm out the door at the end of my shift I don't even have to *think* about my job until tomorrow if I don't want to.

As prepmonkey put it, "I will ride this wave until retirement if I can."
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:45 AM on June 16, 2016 [5 favorites]


>The Card Cheat<

Your profile says you're an Idler and a Malcontent. I have the skills and have been working for years in the field but didn't know about the union. I feel like I would be a good fit if you would hook me up.
posted by bongo_x at 10:54 AM on June 16, 2016 [5 favorites]


An Idler's Glossary - " 'Dawdler'. 'Layabout'. 'Shit-heel'. 'Loser'. For as long as mankind has had to work for a living, which is to say ever since the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, people who work have disparaged those who prefer not to. This glossary, which closely examines the etymology and history of over two hundred idler-specific terms and phrases (whether pejorative, positive, or simply descriptive), aims not merely to correct popular misconceptions about idling, but to serve as a preliminary foundation for a new mode of thinking about working and not-working."
posted by kliuless at 12:06 PM on June 16, 2016


I live in a suburb because it's comparatively inexpensive, it's quiet, the population density is lower, and I am surrounded by trees and grass, not concrete and traffic.

Some times I sit in my house and watch TV or play on the computer, other times I go ride my bike or get my 10,000 steps in or sit out on the grass and read a book. Why? Because those are the things I like to do, in the environment in which I like to do them. Lakes, woods, wetlands--not pavement as far as the eye can see.

I don't want to live where I'm surrounded by a gazillion people rushing around while multiple forms of transportation compete for road space and right of way. I've lived there before and it sucked. I work there. I spend my entire day there, in a building complex that houses 4,000 people, is conveniently located on a major transportation route, and is only minutes away from all the shopping and restaurants I could ever want. If I want to do those things, I only have to arrange my schedule accordingly and I can knock it all out after work, or make a day of it. Then I can go home, to the quiet tranquility of the surrounding greenscape, and not have to listen to all the cars, trucks, ambulances and helicopters, motorcycles with intentionally loud exhaust systems, people shouting drunkenly at all hours, and God only knows what else. I want to be able to go to the cool thing and then leave it there when I'm done with it. I have zero desire to be surrounded by everyone trying to go to the cool thing 24/7/365. I like living in an area where the buildings are built among the trees, not an area where the trees are planted in their tiny little landscaped plots among the buildings. That's what I value--the natural world within walking distance, not fucking restaurants and grocery stores and 156,000 other people, many of whom seem only to live there in order to fulfill some MTV ideal of coolness that they don't even enjoy.

Count me in as one of the people sick of the condescending undertone of how people in suburbs only live there because they're unimaginative with shitty taste and no appreciation for culture. A) I'm in the city every fucking day, I've been to those restaurants and museums and theaters too, they don't deny entrance to people with non-urban zip codes. And b) I know perfectly well that the vast majority of these supposedly hip urbanites are not going to those theaters and restaurants either despite their close proximity, because I see their Facebook feed and know they spend like 90% of their time with their nose in their phone. They pretty much have exactly the same mix of adventures and downtime as everyone else. And finally, c) I am completely comfortable with being uncool, and with doing things purely for my own enjoyment. I don't have to apologize for my hobbies and pastimes not being exciting enough to others. I am having a fucking GRAND time making homemade ice cream in my kitchen, and then chillin' with my e-reader, while yoga music plays in the background and birds chirp out the window, this is literally what makes all my hard work worthwhile. If my idea of a good time sounds boring as shit to other people, then they should go do whatever THEY like, and leave me alone with my ice cream and Enya.
posted by Autumnheart at 12:29 PM on June 16, 2016 [13 favorites]


>I like living in an area where the buildings are built among the trees, not an area where the trees are planted in their tiny little landscaped plots among the buildings. That's what I value--the natural world within walking distance, not fucking restaurants and grocery stores and 156,000 other people, many of whom seem only to live there in order to fulfill some MTV ideal of coolness that they don't even enjoy.

A good friend of mine grew up in Markham, Ontario, and while it sounds like you live in a very nice suburb, his looked like this. No parks. No sidewalks. No stores. Very few (if any) trees. When I would visit him at his parents' house, there was literally nowhere we could go without getting in a car, and certainly no "natural world within walking distance." As a result, nobody walked anywhere. I never even saw anyone riding a bike, or children playing outside. It was very rare to see anyone of any age spending time in either their front or back yards. To each their own, but I think this is the sort of thing most people are thinking of when they criticize suburbs. I wouldn't cast judgement on anyone who chooses to live in a place like that, but personally I found the area very unpleasant.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:58 PM on June 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


I definitely understand the appeal of exurban living and even suburban living because there are lots of advantages of both.

Exurban living typified by living outside of the farthest bounds of the suburban ring around a central city often has a lot of those advantages mentioned. You can still buy a decent sized home on a massive lot (although in many cases multiple acres can still be prohibitively expensive) with plenty of access to nature while also being within a moderately reasonable commute distance.

However if you live in one of the emerging megacities (technically the US only has 2 megacities currently - NYC and LA) or megalopolis regions (this tends to add a few more like Chicago, DFW, etc) then those exurban spaces are rapidly getting to be 2+ hour commutes each way and have become increasingly difficult to buy into in many cases and in other cases have been more or less swallowed by continual suburban growth circles. So unless you actually own the acreage and can dictate land use there is the increasing reality that your exurban dwelling will get swallowed by suburban growth especially as fewer and fewer jobs depend on commuting into a urban core.

The major drawback of course to exurban and suburban living is that it's extremely dependent on cars to be practical and the dependency on cars has an enormous societal cost. Before even getting into the environmental impact of fossil fuel consumption you also have the fuel costs, the dependency on foreign oil for much of the last century which has resulted in negative geopolitical outcomes, the cost of how much time is spent on a commute, plus all sorts of social and cultural aspects (suburbs for much of their history have been used to discriminate against minorities for instance) and it's hard not to see that urban sprawl has immense negative externalities that simply aren't captured.

The reality is that the true cost of people living in exurban and suburban spaces isn't captured in the actual price of a home but instead shared among everyone.

So when people talk about the negative impacts of suburban living it's not just "herp derp, disdain for plebs" speaking but also a deep understanding that urban sprawl could quite easily lead to massive societal impacts in the not so distant future and we are basically doing nothing to reverse that trend.
posted by vuron at 1:34 PM on June 16, 2016 [5 favorites]


I hate to break it to you, but that's how most of the Western world looks. Did you notice that that photo is of mostly multi-tenant housing? Yeah, you put a bunch of people in a small area, and you're not gonna have a lot of space to just leave empty. But when I look at that photo, I see a sidewalk right out front on every street, and quite a decent amount of green space behind each building. They could use some trees, but that development looks like it was built about 5 minutes before that photo was taken. For as population-dense as that neighborhood looks, they did a nice job.

A bit of googling tells me that Markham, Ontario has a population of 309,000 people in an area of 82 square miles (or, essentially, the equivalent of a square 9 miles across). That's not what I consider a suburb; that's a city. (Wikipedia agrees.) My town is a suburb of Minneapolis, it's 36 square miles (so just under half the land space) and has 12,000 people in it. Minneapolis proper has 400K people within 58 square miles. Yeah, our tree game is much better than that particular block, but the houses are just as close together and the walkability is just as poor (not even considering the weather as a factor). Because that's what happens when you build a city a century or two before the invention of the car or the concept of urban planning. My suburb was mostly farmland 15 years ago; they had the luxury of planning the layout of practically the whole town before it was built--and indeed, their city plan for future development was one of the reasons I chose to buy there, because they had a well-thought-out blueprint for mixed housing and retail, and a very common-sense approach to their development timeline (in short, build in response to demand, not on spec while hoping people will show up to buy). Other suburbs were not so conscientious during the peak of the housing boom, and bear a much greater similarity to that photo.

But, so what. One city council's urban planning sucked. Vote 'em out. But if people are now living there, what are you going to do, kick them out and bulldoze the block so you can make it look nicer? Well, that does happen and we have a word for it, but you might want to check first and see if the actual residents have a problem with it before you complain about how *their* home doesn't meet *your* standards.

I have zero desire to be a Yuppie of NIMH and live in a concrete cinderblock, or converted factory from 1934 with exposed beams and ductwork. But nobody's forcing me to, and I also recognize that some people like that shit.
posted by Autumnheart at 1:48 PM on June 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


My wife and I live in a city, technically, but it feels a lot more like a kind of dense suburb, despite being inside city limits. This seems to be basically the Seattle Experience outside of the downtown core. We've got one bus - two on weekdays - that take us, basically, downtown, a couple of places nearby, but we're relegated to a bus or a rental-car or delivery for groceries most of the time, and the laundry is the same way.

We're planning, in the next couple of years, to move back to the East Coast, as we have no real friends here, and all of our friends and family are back in New York and New Jersey, so we're going to the NJ suburbs, a town I used to live in, where there's three grocery stores and a movie theatre and a gym and a drugstore in easy walking distance, and three buses and a train that'll take us to NYC. And our friends and family are nearby, and things we miss so much (it is impossible to find decent pizza in Seattle, and Grodd help me if I want a chili dog).

I grew up in the area, and every so often, I feel it in my heart... I want to go home.
posted by mephron at 1:49 PM on June 16, 2016


But when I look at that photo, I see a sidewalk right out front on every street

It doesn't matter if there's a sidewalk, if there's nowhere to walk to.
posted by Automocar at 1:51 PM on June 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


As for the societal impact of urban sprawl, well, my whole neighborhood has a functioning well system and is surrounded by farmland and lakes. I think that if we do have a significant negative societal impact, the last place I'm going to want to be is in the middle of a concrete desert with half a million other people. Driving to find food and resources is exactly what I *wouldn't* have to do. I live 3 miles away from a local dairy, a commercial greenhouse, and about 17 farms. My next-door neighbors have horses. So yeah, one of us was thinking about the long term, and I'm pretty sure it wasn't anyone buying the new lofts in the middle of downtown.
posted by Autumnheart at 1:56 PM on June 16, 2016


It sounds like you live in a nice area. Do you understand that most suburbanites live in extremely car-dependent areas where they get all their necessities of daily life trucked in from thousands of miles away by multinational corporations?
posted by Automocar at 1:59 PM on June 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


I guess that I'm lucky to live in an area where it's much cheaper to buy a house in the city than in the suburbs. The mean price of a house in the urban areas here is $109K while out in the 'burbs, it's almost $150K.
posted by octothorpe at 2:00 PM on June 16, 2016


So, I think this FPP is actually supposed to be about peer pressure and supervisor pressure to work past 40 hours per week, rather than being a pissing match about "suburbs vs. cities".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:11 PM on June 16, 2016 [15 favorites]


It seems uncontroversial to me to admit that there are many varieties of suburban experience, not just from one metro area to another, but also within a metro area. A generalized argument about "the suburbs", whether you like them or hate them, will never encompass all of that variety.
posted by kevinbelt at 2:16 PM on June 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


[A few comments deleted. This seems to have really gotten off track and gotten weirdly personal. Let's reel it back in and steer back toward the work-schedule thing that's the focus of the article?]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 2:19 PM on June 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


Now, with my earlier comment, I work at a place where they really do take into account work/life balance, and after my last job where they would actually threaten to fire you if you took sick time with a doctor's note, I am pleased. I had a horrible job, call center work, and when I actually injured my knee, they issued me 3 points of demerits - at 8 you got fired - because I worked a half day, then was told not to go back to work for two days. The only reason it wasn't more was due to the doctor's note. And then they 'lost' the paperwork for my disability requests multiple time - thank Gord I kept copies of them - and finally denied me. (I heard they did the same thing to someone who had missed work due to emergency surgery, then fired him and tried to cancel his insurance retroactively. Never working for Xerox again am I.)

My current job... the weekend before last I was on call for emergency requests. When I walked in on Monday, having had to answer calls over the weekend, my supervisor sat down with me and said, "So, the cases over the weekend.. you did put them in as OT, right?" When I had to leave early because I got a call my wife was being taken to the ER, he said, "Go, we'll work it out later." I have no illusions that I am not incredibly lucky here.
posted by mephron at 2:49 PM on June 16, 2016


Yeah, the "yesterday's extraordinary achievement is today's expectation" mentality is what is really poisoning our society in terms of work/life balance.
posted by Autumnheart at 2:52 PM on June 16, 2016 [5 favorites]


Yeah, the "yesterday's extraordinary achievement is today's expectation" mentality is what is really poisoning our society in terms of work/life balance.

Ooh, yeah. I got bit by that working at CitiGroup. I had a summer I missed back in 2002 - I had to make up work for a bunch of people that quit and were found to be malingering badly (about 3,000 back tickets needing work), and I worked 14 hour days and then a Saturday or Sunday. Took me from mid-May until September (because I was clearing the back end while the front end still had things coming in) before the queue was down to tolerable. While I did the job and got recognized for it (no bonus, but apparently that wasn't worth it, but I was also non-exempt and thus got a lot of overtime pay), it became an expectation I'd be a rockstar 24x7. I did some big things, but eventually I burned out badly, to the point I was asked what happened. My manager there at least understood that pushing me all the time eventually broke my ability to do that level of work, but it really screwed me up badly for a while.
posted by mephron at 3:32 PM on June 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


Corporate America: Kind of like school, except the kids who get the best grades are "rewarded" with twice the work.
posted by mrgrimm at 5:01 PM on June 16, 2016


I can see how the suburbs derail happened because how/where you live is inherently tied to this conversation; it's almost a heuristic. There's a conflicting mix of priorities attached to someone being in a certain position (e.g. white, male, overemployed) that the article seems to in part be trying to tease out. And your life while not at work is inextricable from this, for better or worse.

For some people living in the suburbs/city/Grand Teton is a privilege (whether acknowledged or not), and for some it's a curse. It depends on the place and why you're there and how you deal with it and what kind of work you do/are willing to do/can't get and how you get there.

Similarly the main way you engage with the labor side of the market economy--the jobs--whether the kind where you have to work 50-60 hour weeks and check your phone all the time, or the kind where you can't get more than 20hrs/week at Wal-Mart, could be freeing and rewarding, they could be tedious or terrifying, they could be acceptable drudgery; a stopgap.

What scares me is that the general trend seems to be making all of it suckier and more precarious, on the tedious or terrifying (or both) end of the scale.
posted by aspersioncast at 7:02 PM on June 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


I work 50 hours or so on average, not counting commute time (so time away from home for work purposes is probably around 55-60 hours). That kind of sucks, but on the other hand I'm otherwise insanely privileged, and get lots of PTO. I still would rather work less during the normal week, but thats not an option.

That said, I feel a little less bad about it now that I've spent so much time in Japan, where workers generally have it worse. I was used to the US as the "worst case" for overwork, compared to Europe, but Japan is even worse and my family there all think I'm lucky to "only" work 8-10 hours a day.
posted by thefoxgod at 7:58 PM on June 16, 2016


Yeah holy shit the Japanese work culture (and I think the Korean is pretty bad as well) is incredibly toxic in regards to work-life balance. Maybe that worked out back in the days where lifetime employment was more or less the social contract but iirc that's largely become a relic yet many of the same workplace behaviors from that time period are still more or less expected today.
posted by vuron at 10:55 PM on June 16, 2016


Yeah, the "yesterday's extraordinary achievement is today's expectation" mentality is what is really poisoning our society in terms of work/life balance.

Or here's another little gem I've heard time and time again: "You cannot have success, you can only rent it, and the rent is due every day."

That is supposed to be motivational. I'm not quite sure how.
posted by pianoblack at 5:36 AM on June 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


"Work-life balance" was a common phrase on the lips of management, and they'd stress the need for avoiding burnout...then get on people's shit for not working nights and weekends and being at management's beck and call at all hours.

I think I've mentioned here before the company I do some consulting for that had a mandatory work-life balance seminar at 7pm on a Friday evening.

In all the large companies I've worked with, this is Catbert-style HR guff and is a good sign that you aren't going to be treated well at all.
posted by 43rdAnd9th at 8:40 AM on June 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


>I think I've mentioned here before the company I do some consulting for that had a mandatory work-life balance seminar at 7pm on a Friday evening.

see if it's like the places I've worked, the work-life balance seminar at 7:00 PM on a Friday evening "isn't mandatory, but you have to come." and "if this time doesn't work for you, please tell me, because I want everyone to come. but I can't reschedule it. but it's not mandatory, but you have to come."
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:48 AM on June 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


"Work-life balance" was a common phrase on the lips of management, and they'd stress the need for avoiding burnout...then get on people's shit for not working nights and weekends and being at management's beck and call at all hours.

/makes an appointment to go take my public-sector job out for date night, because ho-lee shit
posted by psoas at 9:47 AM on June 21, 2016


*also hugs my job* (My boss purposefully leaves on time EVERY DAY to set an example for the rest of us. And he fusses at my one coworker who is here really late usually because we have better internet than he has at home so he catches up on his TV here after the office closes.)
posted by sperose at 8:13 AM on June 27, 2016


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