Monday, September 03, 2007

Labor Day Reflections

I learned something from Garrison Keillor this morning about how much Americans work. They work longer hours and take fewer vacation days than employees in any other industrialized nation. I am not in a position to be sanctimonious about this - my average workweek is between seventy and eighty hours. I tell young faculty members, seeking tenure, that they should routinely expect to work about this number of hours - which is not easy if you have a long commute and a young family. Mostly, I love my work, as do most faculty members. My compensation is well above the national average of $17 per hour. So far, I have good health care benefits, which a growing number of Americans do not.

My circumstances differ from those of many Americans. For example the Aramark employees who clean American University’s buildings earn an average of less than $12 per hour. Once they were employees of the university, eligible for tuition benefits. That changed at AU and most other higher education institutions a few years ago. Most of these employees are women from Latin American countries.

There is a widening gap between rich and poor in America and that concerns me. In the developing countries I study, this gap contributes to a sense of hopelessness among young men, which motivates some of them to form or join militant movements. I have studied this problem for more than 20 years and write about it in my book, Paradise Poisoned: Learning about Conflict, Terrorism and Development from Sri Lanka’s Civil Wars.
One of the best antidotes for the widening gap between rich and poor is education, but private education is becoming more expensive in America and public education is being shortchanged. There are clear trade-offs between funds spent on jails and homeland security (not to mention the war in Iraq) and funds spent on education, but our political processes don’t take these into account very effectively.

These are my reflections on labor day. It’s time to have breakfast and get back to work.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

On education as an antidote to the rich-poor gap:
Actually education is not an especially effective tool for addressing maldistribution of wealth and income, at least not in the U.S. Yes, college graduates earn considerably more than high school grads, but the incomes of all save those at the very top of the scale have stagnated in recent years. There are other more effective redistributive measures (not that the govt is likely to pursue them). When former Oklahoma Senator Fred Harris ran for the presidency in 1976, he made inequality a central theme of his campaign. It has become a much more severe problem in the last 30 years.

3:51 PM  

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