On July 9, former Florida Governor and Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush proclaimed that if Americans wanted higher incomes and to get back to 4-percent-a-year economic growth, they need to work longer hours.
“[P]eople need to work longer hours and through their productivity gain more income for their families. That’s the only way we are going to get out of this rut that we’re in,” Bush told the New Hampshire Union Leader in an interview.
That’s probably not what most Americans want to hear, particularly if you’re already working full-time or lost your savings in the recession, putting your retirement plans on the skids. Who wants to be told the sluggish economy or their financial struggles are their fault for not working hard enough when they’re working hard already?
Bush has subsequently tanked in the polls.
A Monmouth poll taken July 9 through July 12 had Bush polling at 15 percent versus Donald Trump at 13 percent. It was the last national GOP poll that Bush led.
Democrat frontrunner Hillary Clinton immediately hit back at Bush, tweeting that “Anyone who believes Americans aren’t working hard enough hasn’t met enough American workers.” She posted a chart from the Economic Policy Institute showing productivity hitting near all-time highs even while incomes remain flat.
Bush attempted to backtrack on the statement, clarifying his position to the Boston Herald, saying, “If we’re going to grow our economy, people need to stop being part-time workers and need to be having access to greater opportunities to work. You can take it out of context all you want, but high-sustaining growth means people work 40 hours, rather than 30 hours.”
There’s only one problem. That was a great talking point in 2009, when the percent of those with jobs working part-time peaked at nearly 20 percent. But that was thanks to the recession and labor markets imploding.
The overall part-time worker rate has since declined and stabilized at about 18 percent of those with jobs, pretty much what it was in 1995. To be fair, those working part-time for economic reasons remains elevated at about 6.5 million, but that has been declining, too.
Still, productivity is nearly as high as it’s been, and the percentage of people with jobs working full-time is about what you’d expect to see. Those who are part-time for economic reasons have been declining steadily for five years now.
Yet, even 3 percent growth remains beyond reach — the U.S. Gross Domestic Product has not grown above 3 percent since 2005 — let alone 4 percent growth. And incomes are still flat.
The problem is not that people who have jobs are not working enough hours. Americans work plenty. According to data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in June, the average American with a job worked 34.5 hours a week, pretty much what that figure was in 2006.
Instead, to the extent there is a slowdown in labor markets, it originates with those who are reaching working age and working less on a percentage basis, with the employment population ratio of those aged 16 to 64 dropping from 71.4 percent to 69.1 percent in June, accounting for about 4.5 million working-age Americans who might otherwise have a job.
Then there is the overall demographic shift currently occurring in the U.S., with Baby Boomers retiring en masse and far fewer Americans reaching working age. This, in turn, has led the general slowdown in economic growth seen for the past decade.
None of which would be addressed by working longer hours. If anything, the nation needs to produce more jobs, not more overtime. More competition and demand for labor is what will increase incomes and boost growth, and that could be incentivized by reducing the regulatory costs of doing business in the U.S., for example, to encourage more production domestically.
Bush, on the other hand, cynically accepts the current slowdown as systemic and largely unaddressable in the political sphere. “Want a raise? Better think about working overtime, buddy. Oh, you can’t find a job? Sorry, pal, I wasn’t talking to you.” Who wants to hear that? No wonder his poll numbers have declined.
This guest post is by Robert Romano senior editor of Americans for Limited Government.