Good Stuff from the Decembrist

by Kieran Healy on August 11, 2004

Two good things from Mark Schmitt (but you wouldn’t expect anything less, right?). There’s an American Prospect Piece by him about the long-term effects of the congressional reforms of the 1950s and ‘60s, and a post about jobs with no sick leave:

According to the brilliant analysts at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, sixty-six million workers, or 54% of the workforce, does not get a single paid sick day after a full year on the job.

That statistic, I think, is one of the best indicators of the two classes of the labor market, and how the divide is not so much about wages and income as about benefits and security. And those of us on the relatively secure side of the divide cannot really understand how different life is in a world where you don’t have any paid sick leave. I might think I understand what it is to earn low wages—$10,500/year, in my first job—but I’ve never had a job that didn’t offer sick days. Can’t even imagine it.

Jacob Hacker has a sort of preview of his next book in The New Republic, and I think he is most clearly saying the big thing that needs to be said about the economy: That the principal problem, the big thing that has changed, is not the number of jobs, the rate of growth, or income inequality. It’s the shift in risk from the government and corporations onto individuals. … [B]ut while some of us have been able to exchange the security of the past for greater economic opportunity, a majority of workers are absorbing more risk without accompanying reward.

We’ve mentioned this phenomenon before at CT, as has Daniel in some older posts about pension schemes.

{ 22 comments }

1

Ken Houghton 08.11.04 at 3:22 pm

First link appears to be broken.

Paid sick leave–which I don’t have yet, being in my first six months here–is good for employers, in that it keeps coworkers from getting sick because I’m stupid enough to come in with a 101 degree fever and a cough.

Schmitt’s ex-employer appears to take the “pure-economist” approach, without thinking: take the days and then see if you are an outlier. While they (accurately) treat it as a J-curve, the balancing factor that would have been needed would be a “why is this person in the office.”

The other factor should be if your coworkers believe you are endangering their health, but you don’t take it as a sick day, you get assessed for a “sick day equivalent.” That would at least give a more accurate view of the sick-day situation.

2

dsquared 08.11.04 at 3:43 pm

This other old post was perhaps a little more technical and less bitter.

3

Russkie 08.11.04 at 4:02 pm

>I’ve never had a job that didn?t
>offer sick days. Can’t even
>imagine it.

Ken is right that sick days are in an employer’s interest. But the absence of them is not a dramatic indication of a decline in working condition IMO.

Years ago I worked in the US and my employer switched to a sick-days-free scheme called “Paid time off”. It sucked, but not nearly as much as changes that have happened to the labor market in the last couple of years.

Give me job security and stock options that will be worth something – and then I won’t care about using vacation while I’m sick.

4

Russell Arben Fox 08.11.04 at 4:12 pm

So much of Hacker’s argument (which is superb; everyone should read it) for understanding recent economic trends as “a massive transfer of financial risk from corporations and the government onto families and individuals,” and for seeking an “Economic Security Act” that would re-align our welfare priorities, puts one in mind of other recent arguments along these same lines. Cass Sunstein’s call for a second Bill of Rights to give working people more security admist all the “choices” the new economy has given them, Phillip Longman’s reminder about the costs of raising kids in insecurity, etc., etc. There’s a potential progressive consesnsus here, if anyone can put it all together.

5

jack pugh 08.11.04 at 4:49 pm

If reassigning risk to individuals was accompanied by a reasonable increase in wages, a case, though not a good one, could be made for it. Wage stagnation coupled with decreases in benefits are killing wage earners and salaried alike.

6

Sebastian Holsclaw 08.11.04 at 4:56 pm

I worked as a professional for years at a job which offered no sick days! And I’m a Republican can you believe it?

Of course I had seven ‘personal’ days in addition to my vacation days. The distinction between the two was that vacation days had to be authorized in advance while the ‘personal’ days did not. Which means they functioned much like sick days, except you were allowed to take them when you weren’t sick.

I wonder if things like that could have an impact on the statistics.

7

dsquared 08.11.04 at 4:58 pm

Which means they functioned much like sick days, except you were allowed to take them when you weren’t sick.

The other difference is that there were seven of them.

8

Sebastian Holsclaw 08.11.04 at 6:27 pm

Well, yes I had more vacation days.

9

Jeremy Osner 08.11.04 at 7:48 pm

Hmm… I would speculate that of the 54% of the U.S. workforce who do not get paid sick leave, a huge majority also do not get paid personal days.

10

Richard Bellamy 08.11.04 at 8:15 pm

I’m all for security and paid sick leave. I’m just not sure why the employer should have to pay it.

If I own a McDonald’s that has 4 people working a shift, and one person gets sick, I have to pay someone else. Why should I pay for 5 workers when I’m only using four?

I feel like too often people jump from “This is a good thing” to “Therefore Person X should do it.”

Employers can determine on their own whether it’s in their own interest to give sick days. They don’t need me to say, “Do it. It’s in your own interest.” Best to make sick pay for the rest a government program, rather than a burden solely on employers.

11

dsquared 08.11.04 at 8:21 pm

Well thank you for that view, Richard. Now would you perhaps agree that this trend has been pretty bad for the working fellow in real life?

12

Richard Bellamy 08.11.04 at 9:12 pm

Like I said, I have no problem recognizing that the working fellow is getting worse off — depending on how narrowly we’re defining “working fellow.” There are certainly a fair number of working fellows in India and China who are much better off. They should count for something to.

But I have no problem saying that American working fellows are worse off.
I have no problem saying that American working fellows should be made better off.
My problem is in imposing the burden of making them better off on a class of people of which I am not a member.

13

abb1 08.11.04 at 9:58 pm

My problem is in imposing the burden of making them better off on a class of people of which I am not a member.

Rising wages/benefits would represent an increase in the cost of doing business, which, for the most part, would be passed onto consumers of whom you are a member (most likely). So, your compassion for greedy fat cats seems to be somewhat misplaced. Cheer up Richard, man, this won’t reduce quality of their trophy wives or length of their yachts.

14

Henry 08.11.04 at 10:08 pm

My employer (about 1200 people worldwide) eliminated accrued sick leave a decade ago. We still get paid when we take a sick day, they’re just not on the books so they’re not a liability. A doctor’s note is required for more than 5 consecutive ones because short term disability insurance kicks in at that point. This policy is valid for the few hourly employees as well.

So does my employer count as having no paid sick leave? This policy is certainly fair to the employees.

15

Sebastian Holsclaw 08.11.04 at 10:15 pm

“I would speculate that of the 54% of the U.S. workforce who do not get paid sick leave, a huge majority also do not get paid personal days.”

Maybe so, but why in the world wouldn’t a report on sick leave cover the issue?

I’m not saying that you are wrong, I’m griping about poor statistics-gathering.

16

Richard Bellamy 08.11.04 at 10:44 pm

Rising wages/benefits would represent an increase in the cost of doing business, which, for the most part, would be passed onto consumers of whom you are a member (most likely).

Or, an incentive to move the job off-shore, where wage/benefit costs are lower.

The choices appear to be (1) tell employers do pay more if they want to hire Americans, and then whine when they choose to not hire Americans; or (2) pay the employees more ourselves (through, for example, the Earned Income Tax Credit) and keep the jobs here.

I know the “small business owner” is usually used as a frontman to get goodies for big business owners, but the fact is that lots and lots of employers only employ a small number of people.

Why should a guy with two employees who give each other the flu have to pay for four employees for the week that they are out? I am not saying that the employees shouldn’t get sick pay, but why the desire to make the employer pay for it?

But more simply, if the cost is really passed on to the consumer, so we are all paying for it indirectly, why the objection to us all paying for it directly?

17

Da Thug 08.11.04 at 11:07 pm

Or, an incentive to move the job off-shore, where wage/benefit costs are lower.

McDonalds should offshore its employees ASAP. That’s a winning strategy.

But more simply, if the cost is really passed on to the consumer, so we are all paying for it indirectly, why the objection to us all paying for it directly?

Well said, dude. The chances are negligible of government handouts being misused by companies who report employees as being sick when in fact they are not, merely in order to lower operating costs.

Paying sick leave via a centralized bureacracy also ensures that individual companies will implement policies to maximize employee health and welfare, something that is unlikely to be realized if employers had to pay for such things out of their own pockets – and certainly not as efficiently.

18

abb1 08.11.04 at 11:36 pm

The choice is simple, Richard: either you are, as a master of your own destiny, defending your own interests one way or another, getting good wages, good benefits, good working conditions, good pension plan, good education and good medical care.

Or you are a poor sap worrying about well-being of a small class of rich people (of which you are not a member), who are using your body pretty much like a rented car, saving a few bucks on oil change, because – who cares? when this one bites the dust they’ll rent another one.

All there is to it.

19

Richard Bellamy 08.12.04 at 1:21 am

McDonalds should offshore its employees ASAP. That’s a winning strategy.

You scoff. Ha ha. You can’t outsource McDonald’s workers, you idiot! And yet. . . a Missouri McDonalds just outsourced its drive-through window to Colorado. Why not India?

Scary, no?

Yes, sick pay is surely not feasible through a centralized bureuacracy, just as no one would even consider paying Family Medical Leave from state resources. Ridiculous. DOA. Nothing to seriously contemplate here. Move along.

20

Xavier 08.12.04 at 12:35 pm

I blame the minimum wage. Benefits first became a major part of labor compensation during WWII when there was a ceiling on wage increases. There was no other way to increase compensation and attract employees. It stands to reason that a wage floor would cause employers to eliminate benefits because it’s the only way employers can reduce compensation.

I don’t really see the problem with not offering sick days. Some employers may see sick days as a way to prevent employees from coming in sick and infecting others, and some may see sick days as a tool for lazy employees to skip out on work. Either is reasonable. We should allow employers and employees to work that out for themselves.

21

Doug Turnbull 08.12.04 at 2:06 pm

This seems to tie into one of the more perceptive analyses I’ve read of the current (and past) transformations of the state. It’s in a fairly long tome called _The Shield fo Achilles_ by Phillip Bobbitt. It looks at the past 500 years of history, first going over the interplay between changes in military strategy and changes in internal politics. And second looking at the evolution of the international community.

Anyway, the authot identifies 4 or 5 major transformations in the nature of the state, from Princely States to Kingly State to State Nations to Nation States and now, currently, towards market states.

He sees exactly that trend–that the state is geting out of trying to maximize the well-being of all its members and moving towards a mode of trying to maximize opportunity. Which comes at the cost of increased risks and inequality.

It’s an interesting analysis, although he takes the coming market state as a fait accompli rather than looking at ways to avoid it or ameliorate its consequences.

22

Barry 08.12.04 at 10:36 pm

That also assumes that opporunity is actually being maximized. As opposed to increased risk and inequality being explained away by alleging increased opportunity.

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