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Jeb Bush’s ‘people need to work longer hours’ idea would be terrible for our health

REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Jeb Bush: "We have to be a lot more productive, workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows. It means that people need to work longer hours."

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush believes that getting Americans to work longer hours would be good for the economy.

Maybe. Maybe not. But it certainly would be terrible for our health.

Americans, of course, already work much longer hours than most other industrialized nations in the world. According to a 2014 Gallup Poll, Americans employed full time report working an average of 47 hours a week. And almost 40 percent say they average more than 50 hours of work a week.

That’s not good for our physical or mental health. Here are just a few reasons why:

Working long hours is associated with a higher risk of heart disease. In 2012, an international team of researchers published a meta-analysis of 12 earlier studies on the impact on the heart of working long hours (more than 10 hours daily and up to 65 hours per week). The studies involved more than 22,000 mostly male, middle-aged workers from seven high-income countries, including the United States. 

The analysis found an almost two-fold increase in the risk of heart disease, especially angina and heart attacks, among people who worked long hours. The prolonged exposure to elevated levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol, is likely a factor in this increased risk, say the study’s authors. High levels of such hormones are known to damage the heart and blood vessels — as well as other organs and tissues throughout the body.

Working long hours is associated with an increased risk of becoming depressed. A 2012 study, which followed more than 2,000 middle-aged British civil servants for six years, found that putting in long hours at the office increased the likelihood of the workers becoming depressed — even if the work being done wasn’t perceived by the worker as being that stressful.

Specifically, the study found that the civil servants who worked an average of at least 11 hours a day were about two-and-a-half times more likely to experience a major depressive episode than their office colleagues whose workdays averaged “only” seven or eight hours. That higher risk held even after adjusting for a host of factors, such as physical health, smoking, job strain and social support at work. 

Interestingly, the study found that only junior and mid-level civil servants who worked long hours were at a higher risk of become depressed. Long hours had little impact on the mental health of employees in the top-tiered, higher-paid jobs.

Working long hours is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. People who do manual or other low-paying work for more than 55 hours a week are 30 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than their peers who work 35 to 40 hours a week, according to a 2014 meta-analysis. The findings held even after excluding shift workers and adjusting for such factors as age, gender, obesity and physical activity.

The meta-analysis analyzed data from four published and 19 unpublished studies involving more than 222,000 workers in the United States, Europe, Australia and Japan. They were followed for an average of seven and a half years.

The meta-analysis found no association between long workweeks and type 2 diabetes among higher socioeconomic groups, however.

Needed: better work-life balance

Of course, these are all observational studies. None provides solid proof that working long hours causes health problems.

Still, these (and other findings on the topic) are more than troubling, particularly given how many Americans are now struggling with heart disease, type 2 diabetes, depression and other chronic illnesses. 

American workers need help with finding a healthier work-life balance. They don’t need to be told to work longer and harder. They’re already doing that, and to the probable detriment of their health.

Comments (18)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 07/10/2015 - 10:15 am.

    Spoken like a plutocrat

    Mr. Bush has been more-than-amply compensated for his labors, and it doesn’t hurt that he started with a nice financial leg-up from the family fortune.

    As a society, we already work longer hours than most industrial nations, and the failure of Americans in general to use vacation time that they’ve earned has been the subject of numerous articles and studies. Working longer hours would, in most instances, simply mean even worse mental and physical health, with repercussions appearing directly in the form of deteriorating social, marital and family relations, not to mention individual lifespans.

    In short, it’s a recipe for a society populated by drones.

    • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 07/11/2015 - 11:34 am.

      How so ?

      To be fair , Mr Bush was saying that people should be able to get more hours at their work. You don’t have to take those hours if you don’t want to.

      How different is his financial fortune different from the Mondale’s, Dayton’s , Clinton’s ? And i’m not a conservative.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/13/2015 - 02:24 pm.

        To Be Fair

        Walter Mondale and the Clintons earned their money by performing services. Highly-priced services, but services for which people are willing to pay. Governor Dayton did, indeed, inherit his wealth.

        To be fair, let me ask you what any of them have to do with this discussion. Have any of them said that Americans–who already work more hours per week than the workers in most industrialized countries–should work even longer hours, just to survive? If not, I fail to see why anyone should bring them up.

  2. Submitted by Shar Fortunak on 07/10/2015 - 11:01 am.

    J. Bush comment on working longer hours

    Somebody please send Bush a copy of this article so he gets
    a clue as to what affects workers in the real world.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/10/2015 - 11:20 am.

      Why Bother?

      Do you suppose he would care? The standard conservative narrative is that lower and middle incomes are where they are because it was their choice. Lower income people especially are poor because of their own destructive and/or declasse choices.

      There’s no sympathy for anyone who has chosen not to use their family connections to propel themselves into a cushy business career and high political office. Slackers.

      • Submitted by Tim Milner on 07/10/2015 - 01:50 pm.

        RB

        As difficult as it is to say, there is some choice in the matter. Not totally, but certainly an element.

        We have offered our employees countless opportunities to learn new skills. On site, paid training. Only an hour or so extra time on their part. ESL classes. Al kinds of things. And I am always disappointed to see how few take part.

        Then, when the ones that do take advantage get promoted (and earn more pay), I get the “I’ve been here longer than XXXX – why did they get promoted and not me”. When I tell them that the others worked at getting more skills, they look at me with blank faces.

        There is getting to be a disconnect. People at all levels fell they should be paid more just because, rather than as a result of being more productive, more educated, having added skills, etc.

        My plant manager has been taking business classes at a community college, on his own – with out using any company resources. I was frankly a little disappointed – that’s why the company resources are there. When I approached him, his comment was “I went back because I just wanted to learn more to be a better manager – I figured that was my responsibility, not the company’s”. I don’t see that attitude very often.

        This gentleman started with me 20 years ago, no high school diploma, at $6/hr as a general laborer. Last year, he made just under $90,000 as plant manager.

        These type opportunities are still there. But it does take some choice on the workers part to make the effort to gain one.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/10/2015 - 04:15 pm.

          Choice

          Sure, it requires some choice on the part of the worker. It also requires choices on the part of others, to make opportunities easily available (e.g. privately provided training, public education, scheduling so one can go to class, etc.).

          From your description, it sounds like your company is making great efforts to give your employees the chance to get ahead. I think this is a fine thing, not just because of the general benevolence it shows, but because you understand the value of making that kind of investment in your employees. Not every employer is that enlightened, and you are to be commended.

          I’m sure you’re also seeing the benefits to your business of a plant manager who knows the business from the ground up and who has 20 years experience with the company vs. someone fresh out of business school. Win-win, I call it.

  3. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 07/10/2015 - 11:33 am.

    What scares me about Jeb Bush’s take on what workers should do is that he, like Romney, puts blame on the lowest rank in the economy for a situation that has to do with the owners and managers of private corporations and businesses: low wages, removal of benefits, forced and unpaid overtime, forced assumption of fired workers’ responsibilities, etc.

    He actually blamed the Obama administration for the face that corporations deliberately refuse to assign a worker more than 30 hours or work per week, so they could avoid paying any benefits!

    He’s depending on an ignorant electorate, who might swallow such cute tricks.

  4. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 07/10/2015 - 12:37 pm.

    Hours

    Instead of asking (or requiring) people to work longer hours, we should shorten them up. Like the Europeans, give people four weeks of vacation to start and then build from there. Instead people are given a week or two of vacation and, after five years, it’s builds to three. Assuming, of course, you don’t get a job at a company that’s miserly.

    This also assumes that you’re working a full time job and not stringing together a series of part time jobs to try and make ends meet. If you’re in that scenario, then you typically get zero vacation or other benefits.

    • Submitted by joe smith on 07/10/2015 - 01:53 pm.

      Todd, ask Greece how the 28 hr work week is doing? If you want more money in your pocket work longer or get a higher paying job. To expect employers to pay folk to take more vacation time and work less is living in fantasy land. If you owned a small business you would look at things differently, I guarantee that!! The fact that a guy running for president can’t state such a simple fact shows how far we have fallen as a country.
      I wanted a new bike when I was 13 and my dad told me to get a paper route and buy one. I did and never forgot that simple lesson: if you want something, work for it.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/10/2015 - 04:33 pm.

        Timeamus Danaos!

        Leaving aside the obvious differences between the Greek and American economies, let us note that Americans already work longer hours than their counterparts in other industrialized nations:

        Average workweek in the US: 46.7 hours (per a 2014 Gallup survey). Here are the figures, according to the OECD, for workweeks in

        Netherlands: 33 hours

        Norway: 33 hours

        Germany: 35.3 hours

        Switzerland: 35 hours

        Australia: 36 hours

        Greece: 42 hours (sorry; that one doesn’t seem to fit the narrative)

  5. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 07/10/2015 - 04:54 pm.

    And how many hours does a Bush work?

    When a doctor tells you to lose weight, you listen more carefully if he or she is not fat. Do as I say, not as I do just doesn’t motivate people very much. If you are 28, in corporate America and want to be an executive someday or make millions in the market, you put in the hours. That is because you have a good feeling that working hard and long hours will be rewarding. If you are little older and have seen what happens to people who work a lot of hours (more money yes, but often problems with spouse, children and health), you might be just have a little more wisdom on the issue.

    Since Bush didn’t bother to disclose how hard he personally has worked to gain his position, I’m guessing probably less than someone with a different family, His advice is a lot like Mitt Romney advising people if they want to start a business, get a loan from Dad. In too many families, it is Dad who needs a loan, after paying for college and getting caught in a downsizing.

    We witnessed with George W., his brother, how he managed to succeed more due to his connections than his personal efforts. And W certainly was willing to let others do a lot of his thinking for him and preferred days of cutting bush on the ranch to doing his job. Jeb may be smarter, but has he followed his own advice to get where he is today? I’m guessing not..

    • Submitted by joe smith on 07/10/2015 - 11:12 pm.

      Why are you worried about how much someone else works? Work as much as you deem necessary and let the guy who wants to work 50 hrs a week work and the guy who is satisfied working 15 hrs a week do his thing. Are concerned how much Hillary works also?

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/12/2015 - 03:02 pm.

        Not The Dreaded “What About Hillary?” Attack!

        Is Ms. Clinton telling Americans they need to work more? If not, she really has nothing to do with this discussion, does she?

  6. Submitted by Mike Downing on 07/11/2015 - 12:20 pm.

    Misrepresentation of Jeb Bush’s statement?

    Jeb Bush said he wants to be a President that increases GDP growth to 4% or higher in order for jobs to be created and to move workers from part time jobs to full time jobs in order to increase family incomes. Nowhere did he say people should work 50-60 hours a week. It is a gross misrepresentation to say so.

    • Submitted by Jay Willemssen on 07/12/2015 - 01:10 pm.

      Mr. Bush verbatim and untangling his empty rhetoric

      Here is a precise transcript of what Mr. Bush said:

      “We’re workin’ on a strategy to… that’s under… I’d say an aspiration for the country, and I believe we can achieve it, is 4% growth as far as the eye can see. Which means we have to be a lot more productive, workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows… It means that, um, people need to work longer hours, and through their productivity gain more income for their families. That’s the *only* way we’re going to get out of this rut that we’re in.”

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P5RERORKXNU

      Also note that his facial expression shifts to a furrowed brow right before saying “people need to work longer hours”, meaning he knows full-well that people won’t want to hear his bitter medicine “solution”.

      Mr. Bush did not say, per your claim, “he wants to be a President that increases GDP growth to 4% or higher in order for jobs to be created and to move workers from part time jobs to full time jobs in order to increase family incomes”. In fact, “It is a gross misrepresentation [for you] to say so.” That part time / full time excuse is something he and his people formulated after the reaction to his initial comments.

      “Nowhere did he say people should work 50-60 hours a week.” And no one said he did. “It is a gross misrepresentation to say so.”

      In fact, it makes no sense to say “he wants to be a president that increases GDP to 4% or higher in order for jobs to be created”. Mr. Bush’s assertion was that increased productivity, higher workforce participation, and working longer hours would create that growth – not the other way around. Unless of course you’re a unique Republican who believes the president controls the economy, not the free enterprise system of the United States.

      Average weekly hours of all private sector employees has been tracked by the BLS since 2006. The current level is 34.5, the same level as it was pre-recession. It’s been at this level for the last 3.5 years.

      As for 4% growth? This only shows how gullible Mr. Bush believes people to be. The last time the US met or exceeded 4% annual real growth in per capita GDP was from 1941-1948. The highest level for a modern presidency was under Kennedy and Johnson at 3.6%. Mr. Bush’s brother achieved the lowest level of any modern president at an abysmal 1.1%. His one-term father hit 2.0%. But through Bush Republican MAGIC he’s going to beat every modern president, doubling his father and quadrupling his brother? And the key to this MAGIC is that the workers who work the most hours in the developed world need to work even more? Brilliant.

      As for the labor force participation canard Republicans harp on, during the highest growth presidential period (Kennedy and Johnson), it averaged 59.1%. It is currently 3.5 percentage points higher than that at 62.6%. The rate peaked over 15 years ago, before Mr. Bush’s brother was even president.

      The labor force participation rate is the labor force divided by the civilian noninstitutional population ages 16 and over. Just since 2005, the ratio of working age population (ages 22 to 65) as a percentage of the 16 and over population has declined 1.4 percentage points.

      The BLS has data on median weekly earnings for full-time workers dating back to 1979. Over the course of 36 years, adjusted for inflation, the median weekly earnings of full-time workers has increased a piddly 1.5%. During that same period, inflation-adjusted per capita disposable income increased 87.3% – nearly 60-fold greater than the change in median earnings. Labor productivity increased 96.7%.

      That means the typical hard-working person has made basically no economic gain in almost 4 decades while the “rising tide” doubled after-tax income. What that indicates is that people doing better than the typical, full-time working American reaped all the benefits of the increasing productivity of American effort. This period coincides with his family achieving federal executive branch power.

      I’m sure Mr. Bush appreciates he has an unpaid online workforce out there defending this nonsense.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/13/2015 - 11:20 am.

      4% GDP Growth

      “Jeb Bush said he wants to be a President that increases GDP growth to 4% or higher . . .”

      Sustained periods of 4% GDP growth are extremely unlikely. Past periods of growth that large have been driven by the entry of large numbers of new workers into the workforce (e.g increased participation by women) or rapid technological innovation. Mr.. Bush seems to have no plan for the second. The first one depends on jobs being created, and jobs are not created without demand for what the worker produces. There are also demographic limits to how many more workers we can get into the workforce (unless Mr. Bush plans to increase immigration dramatically?).

  7. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 07/12/2015 - 09:44 pm.

    Context…

    As Mr. Black emphasized that the SCOTUS emphasized the importance of reading the context regarding the health care law and the use of the word “State.” we must emphasis the context regarding the statement of Mr. Bush.

    The American people are underemployed. Many who want to work 40 plus hours at one job are unable. Many are forced to work two part-time jobs to support their families. Many have dropped out of looking for a job.

    Mr. Bush understands the weakness of the U.S. economy and the weakness of the recovery under the Obama administration.

    To twist the context of the Bush remarks and further the misinformation supplied by the H. C. tweets responding to the Bush statement is the “terrible for real journalism.”

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