Work-sharing – a solution to better living
by Kathy McNeely, Interim Director, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
Job sharing could be one way of creating a world where everyone has just enough. Reminiscent of the imperative behind the gift of manna (Exodus 16), a supported job-sharing system could replace a defective unemployment system allowing people to earn just enough for themselves and their families while creating the space and time in their lives to refrain from work and honor the Sabbath.
The Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) reported that in mid-January, “New Jersey became the 6th state in the country to adopt a work-sharing law since the onset of the recession.” In the case of New Jersey, the “laws modify the unemployment insurance system so that workers who have had their hours cut can get partial unemployment benefits to limit the loss of income. The point is to give employers an incentive to reduce work hours rather than lay off workers.” CEPR reports that with New Jersey’s new law, 24 states now allow work sharing as a part of their unemployment insurance, and Indiana has a similar bill before its legislature that has a good chance of passing this year.
The concept of work sharing grew out of the Great Depression. In 1935, at the height of the depression the International Labor Organization [ILO] adopted the Forty-Hour Week Convention, (No. 47), reducing the number of weekly work hours to ensure that more people could be employed. In the context of the current global economic recession, and the job crisis it has bred, job sharing could serve as a viable labor market policy to not only preserve and create new jobs, but to assure people the time to relax and regenerate.
During the economic crisis of 2008 in some companies around the country practiced work sharing where individual work time was reduced to spread a reduced volume of work over the same or a similar number of workers in order to avoid layoffs. This assured that all workers kept their jobs, and even though they brought home less money, no one was left to look for work. A 3 day or 4 day work week allows people to spend more time with family, to recreate and to engage in creative activity. For the many of us so trained in a strong work ethic who have trouble breaking away to observe Sabbath, the shorter work week may be just is needed to step back and give the awe and respect due the very genius of the Earth that sustains us.
CEPR reports the country of Germany’s success at maintaining low unemployment during the recession in spite of the fact that Germany’s economic growth since the downturn has been no more rapid than economic growth in the United States. The main difference is that the German government encouraged firms to meet the reduced demand for labor through cutbacks in hours rather than lay off workers.
The current US unemployment system insurance actually encourages employers to lay off workers rather than shorten their work hours. But when people are laid off they become inactive; their skills deteriorate, and they become isolated from their networks in the work environment; and it becomes even more challenging for them to find a job. By bolstering a shorter work week with some unemployment payments, it allows workers to cover their bills at home and while keeping up with their skills and work contacts.
CEPR praises the increased interest and adoption of work-sharing laws in the United States.” If more states adopted such laws…there would be substantial potential for lowering unemployment. Every month, close to 2 million workers are dismissed or laid off. If just 5 percent of these jobs could be preserved through work-sharing programs, it would be equivalent to creating an additional 1.2 million jobs a year.”
A huge incentive would be if Congress could pass the Layoff Prevention Act of 2011, sponsored by Jack Reed in the Senate and Rosa DeLauro in the House. This bill would provide additional funding for work-sharing programs already in place as well as seed money for states seeking to establish similar systems.