There are many, many awe-inspiring characteristics of the red, white and blue: the unsurpassed majesty of our natural landscape; the incredible diversity of our citizens; the entrepreneurial spirit that underlies our culture. And unlike millions of not-so-fortunate human beings across the globe — most of us live pretty comfortable lives. So in many respects, we have lots of good stuff to be grateful for. And I do believe in gratitude.
But stack us up against other first world nations, and our glittery façade dulls down. When it comes to employment in the US of A, that Puritanical nonsense passed down from our ancestors screwed us big time. Add that to a whole host of other work-related issues and our greed-induced corporate culture, and you’ve got an Office Space-style perfect storm. Here’s why working in this country bites the big one.
10. Two weeks vacation. If you’re lucky.
What kind of tightwad-Ebenezer Scrooge came up with this timetable? We’re supposed to spend 50 weeks a year breaking our backs, nose to the grindstone, dragging ass to work every day until we’re old enough to retire, and too old to have any fun? According to the Center for Economic Policy and Research, the United States is the only rich nation which doesn’t legally require vacation time for employees and with no requirement that national holidays come with extra pay and a compensating day off. Look at the French in comparison: they’ve been shown to work less than most comparable nations, and yet, they’re more productive. Overwork breeds burnout, stress-related illness, low output – you name it. In America, we live to work. In many other places, they work to live. It’s a matter of priorities, and ours are screwed.
9. Vanishing retirement and pensions.
These aren’t the days of our grandparents. At least when our father’s fathers spent 40 years trekking to an unfulfilling job on the daily, they were guaranteed a cushion when the time came for retirement. No longer. Today, almost half of U.S. workers have no retirement benefits. Back in 1975, 88 percent of workers with workplace retirement plans had defined-benefit pensions. Now, most people will probably end up dropping dead at their desks while in their 80s. Unless you’re putting away copious quantities of cash for retirement (who the hell can afford that?), you’re probably up shit creek.
8. No health insurance.
This is the bane of American existence – and an absurd state of affairs for a wealthy nation. Not only are more than 40 million Americans uninsured – which is an unbelievable web of horror unto itself – but our infant mortality rate is dismal. To be exact, the U.S. has “50 percent more first-day deaths than all other industrialized countries combined.” Sorry, wee babies. Corporate CEOs needs the money more than you do.
Human beings were meant to breathe fresh air; to turn our faces to the sun; to flex our limbs and stretch our legs. We were not meant to sit glued to an artificially lit screen for 10-12 hours a day, developing carpal tunnel and seasonal affective disorder. What will the long term effects of a generation of cube dwellers look like? I shudder to think. Granted, cubicles are not solely an American phenomenon – but we certainly spend more time in them than almost anyone else. When we were kiddos, we had recess, gym, playtime. Most grown-ups are stuck indoors under fluorescent lighting, developing Vitamin D deficiencies and muscle atrophy.
6. Employers can deny you based on bad credit.
Seriously, that’s a thing here. In case you weren’t aware, employers have the right to check your personal credit report, and can deny you employment based on anything they find. So not do Experian, TransUnion and Equifax wield an unfathomable amount of power over the course of your adult life – they can also keep you from getting a job. Because people with bad credit are the ones least in need of income, right?! Seems like it should be illegal. But it’s not.
5. Commuting via car.
Ahhh, the U.S., where public transportation is a dirty word to be passed from one public official to another like a hot potato. Aside from a few choice cities, Americans are essentially doomed to commute to work via car, which forces the collective blood pressure of this country skyrocketing. With no other options, people must confine themselves to their hell on wheels, often for hours at a time, just to make it to the office to plant themselves in a cheap swivel chair and pluck away at a keyboard. What a life. Not to mention that long commutes will kinda kill you via a slow, painful decline due to increased stress, worse sleep and decreased social interaction. They also make you fatter. And longer commutes are on the increase, thanks to economic woes.
4. Women get screwed.
Despite the fact that it’s 2013, it’s still a man’s world. Sure, we passed an Equal Pay Act like, 50 years ago (1963, to be exact), but y’know, equality doesn’t happen overnight … right? Turns out, median yearly pay for women working full time is still $11,084 less than men’s. It’s even worse if you’re a minority woman. So there’s that.
3. Women with babies get even more screwed.
Among the 30 industrialized democracies in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, we’re the only nation without paid maternity (or paternity) leave. Which means there are a hell of a lot of crying babes being forced to imprint on daycare staffers.
2. Kids get screwed.
Childcare? Don’t make me laugh and dribble milk all over my chin. Childcare in the United States consists of parents shelling out big bucks they can’t afford to private daycares. Sometimes, these bills add up to more than one parent’s salary – so a stay-at-home mom or dad is a (marginally) more economical option. In Massachusetts, it costs an average family $15,000 a year to have a baby taken care of full-time in a licensed center. And despite being expensive, many day-care facilities still provide dismal care – as demonstrated by a recent expose. It’s a conundrum indeed.
1. The Puritan/Protestant work ethic.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not afraid of hard work. Most Americans aren’t. In fact, I love it — when it’s work I enjoy. However, we shouldn’t be sacrificing quality of life for the sake of our jobs. EVER. Sadly, we’re living with the vestiges of an outmoded work ethic that stems from a rigid and antiquated notion of morality and Christianity. And frankly, when the settlers were struggling for survival, backbreaking work was a necessity. Today, it’s more about corporate greed than anything else. And besides, wasn’t technology supposed to make our lives easier? Well, Bill Gates? When the hell is that happening? And in the midst of working harder than ever, most Americans are unhappier with their work than ever before. It’s sad. It’s inexcusable. And it’s not the way to live. Or work.
By now I’ve probably bummed you out big time. Sorry ’bout that – it’s rather unlike me. But chin up, dear reader! This is America, after all, and if there’s one thing we have here, it’s self-determination. We’re a plucky bunch, and technically, no one says you have to take a corporate job or sit in a cube till you’re old and gray. You can carve out your own niche, make your own rules, build a new system, start your own business – and flip the bird to the man. You can break free from society’s pathetically outdated dictates and fly free. I’ve done it, and I’m a happy little clam. I love what I do, I love who I work for and with, and I love that my life is my own. There are no guarantees, but this is life – there never are.
Follow your dreams, people. Take back your lives. The time is now. God bless America.