Friday, November 2, 2012

Unemployment Crisis (Solution) - Post #3, A New National Lifestyle

This is the third installment of a 20 page manuscript I have been working on for 40 years.  The Introduction and first 2 Installments were posted on Oct. 21, 26, and 27.  I suggest that you read them first, starting with Oct. 21, 2012.  When all installments have been printed I will make the entire document available as a single download.  I sincerely hope that people from other countries will consider this, and I would love to receive comments for consideration as I expand this into a longer, more detailed document.


     [I believe we have reached a new period in the history of production and labor. In Europe the average time provided for paid vacations is mostly much higher than in the USA—France-38 days, Sweden-32 days, Italy-31 days, Denmark-30, Germany-27, Britain-26. In the USA the average is 13 days. Even Japan provides 15 days, and Canada 19. We must consider whether efficiency in world production, and market saturation with “stuff” has increased so much in recent years that the 35 to 40 hour, 49 to 50 week work year can no longer provide full employment in developed countries. If that is true, then there is even more reason to consider a new way of approaching time use and work.]

     [While there is tremendous long-term potential for employment by renewing aging infrastructure and producing renewable energy sources, this will not provide a quick fix. Nor will people necessarily be willing or able to run up the municipal or national debt needed to finance such employment. Thus it seems we need solutions that can be implemented quickly, and at the same time reduce unemployment and increase a sense of job security, all at a low cost.  Insecure people do not spend much money on non-essentials and the economy remains stagnant.]
     [During the current financial crisis some states, municipalities and businesses have tried to avoid firings and layoffs by requiring all employees to NOT work a few days each month. This is a helpful but not very efficient way to save some jobs and budget funds. It would be far better for employees to have longer planned periods when they could make productive use of the enforced time off.]

     [School systems have already learned to deal with the summer unemployment of many of their teachers. Individual teacher usually knows if they will have a job after the summer break. Teachers can often choose to be paid 1/10th of their salary for each of the 10 months they work, or 1/12th of their salary over the entire 12 months, even when they are off for the summer months. They can then use this paid time for professional development studies or economically secure time with family.]
     [If governments or businesses need to cut back on paid work time because of lack of revenue or reduced sales, they should consider the model developed by schools and teachers. They should determine if they have slower periods when some of their employees could take one or more months off without disrupting their employer's needs. These workers could them be paid full salary while actually working, or a fractional prorated salary for all 12 months of the year.]
     [Plans could be made well in advance for those who want pay for 12 months while working less, and the reduced monthly payments would begin immediately so payment for the months not to be worked would be deposited and available in escrow. While it would nice if we could have longer guaranteed vacations as they do in Europe, under current conditions many would probably just be happy to have a secure if somewhat smaller paycheck.  Given their current economic problems European countries might want to consider testing  this system as well.]

     [This kind of program could be implemented anywhere and at any time by a government or business that wants/needs to save money while at the same time providing security and stability for their employees and the wider community that depends on them. However, if we are truly entering into a historic new phase in employment needs, then a more structured and widespread system of employment should be examined for possible use.  For example, individual working hours can be changed seasonally, but national Daylight Savings makes doing it easier.]
     In order to succeed, what characteristics must a broad, “revolutionary” plan have so it can attack these problems and encourage these attitudes [and choices].
  1. It must not threaten major power groups—labor, industry, etc.
  2. It should not be compulsory for any major segment of the people.
  3. It should, if possible, fit into and be compatible with other related aspects of the social and economic order.  
  4. It should be possible to test the plan in small areas [like towns and cities] before expanding its application to larger regions [like states and countries]. 
     This proposed plan for social [and economic] change meets all these criteria, as will be shown. What then is this “revolutionary” concept that can gradually bring about so many desirable changes in the American life style [or that of other developed countries, some of which have 25% unemployment]. 
     Simply this: Just as a few colleges and universities already operate on a quarter system, all major businesses, governments and the entire educational system from grade school through college could operate on a Quarter System, with a nationally [or regionally in the testing phases] agreed-upon time for the break between quarters. The Quarters could also be subdivided in half [or into thirds] for those entities that would find these shorter periods more useful. [The key point is that the breaks would be the same few days for everyone, thus facilitating the flow from work, to school, to vacation, and back.]
     Such a system could be promoted by local governments and Congress in the same way that Daylight Savings time has been over the years—first on a trial basis in urban centers and certain states, then nationwide and permanently.
     Under this system workers could voluntarily choose to work full time, 3 quarters, etc., just as students now can choose to attend college 4 quarters, 3 quarters, or less as their needs change.
     In order to provide the most useful and equitable distribution of favorable and unfavorable months, [although one man's meat is sometimes another man's poison], it is proposed that the quarters be divided roughly as follows. Naturally minor deviations would be necessary to equalize the number of work and school days per quarter [with the number of days and national holidays factored in for each month.]
          1st Quarter - February, March and April
          2nd Quarter - May, June and July
          3rd Quarter - August, September and October
          4th Quarter - November, December and January
     This division into three-month clusters would give two quarters a share of the prime vacation months of July and August. And the other 2 quarters the prime winter vacation months of January and February. People would also have more of an opportunity to enjoy the fine weather in June and September, and the big drain on winter resort facilities around Christmas and New Year would be reduced.

     I would recommend that any company, city, state, or country that decides to experiment with this concept adopt the following time frame. There should be a week at the beginning of each quarter that would be the changeover week.  Equalization of the number of working versus holiday and weekend days could then be made during that week.  Under this concept that would be the first weeks of February, May, August, and November.  This week in most cases would include some days from the previous months of January, April, July, and October.
     For calendar year 2015, the week dates would be Feb. 1 thru Feb. 7, May 3 thru 9,  Aug. 2 thru 8, and Nov. 1 thru 7.  For 2016 the dates would be Jan. 31 thru Feb. 6, May 2 thru 8, Aug. 1 thru 7, and Oct. 31 thru Nov. 6.   Thus, any group anywhere that would begin to experiment with this concept would then fit seamlessly into the wider world if this is adopted in many places.

     This system would not have to be compulsory, [nor should it be] but governments could take the lead by permitting or encouraging employees in less essential categories to work fewer than 4 quarters a year at full hourly pay rates and by advising subcontractors to do the same, thereby reducing the need for involuntary layoffs.
     With the current pattern of forcing early retirements, [arbitrary days off each month], and cutbacks in program [and department] funding, this system would be especially valuable in reducing the amount of hardship suffered by employees dependent on federal [, state, and municipal] money [and funding] for their livelihood.

     Such a system could also be tried first in regions of highest unemployment and rapidly changing employment patterns like Detroit, Arizona, Nevada, California and Florida [previously Seattle, Connecticut, Detroit in the 70s, and Texas, Silicon Valley, Detroit a decade ago], etc. In such areas councils of labor, management, and government could meet to determine the manpower needs of the region. Then employed people could be encouraged [offered incentives and guaranteed return to their positions] to work less than the full 4 quarters, and the unemployed hired to fill in the quarters thus vacated. People who might otherwise be laid off [or required to take several extra days off each month] would retain their positions and job security. In jurisdictions with high youth and hard core unemployment, special job training programs might be integrated into this changeover.
     Naturally, labor contracts would be written [and/or modified] to deal with this system, with paragraphs detailing protections and obligations.
     In those places without acute unemployment, people would be permitted rather than encouraged to work fewer than 4 quarters, and the hard core unemployed, young people, mothers, and the retired would have the opportunity to work as they desired [, or as they completed training in fields that are short of people with the skill sets needed in the current economy].

     While the majority of workers would probably want to continue work full time, there are a number of classes of people (probably amounting to a good-sized minority) who would be overjoyed at [the opportunities offered by] this change including:
     1. Men and women who would like to update their job skills, change their careers, or gain advancement through formal study.
     2. Full-time working wives and mothers, as well as fathers, who would like to spend some time in the home with family [or working on home improvement projects].
     3. People with special skills, crafts, or hobbies who can make some seasonal money “doing their thing,” but not enough to live on [, or who might want to experiment with becoming self-employed].
     4. People who like to grow their own food. (Spring planting and fall harvesting and preserving seasons especially.) This idea is becoming more popular in light of today's skyrocketing food costs and concerns about chemicals. [This is also in line with the “locovore” movement promoting energy savings through food production close to where people actually are going to eat it.  People are also concerned over highly hybridized and genetically modified food and the related industrial practices.]

     The fact that both schools and workplaces would be on the same time system should have tremendous advantages. Transferring from school to work and back again would be greatly facilitated. [While some schools and businesses/governments cooperate with regular intern programs, this system would greatly enhance internship possibilities in many places.] Schools could operate year round with all the resulting economies and there would not be the big bulge of students seeking summer employment which can cause difficulties for students who really need the supplemental funds to finance their educations [but may suffer by not being so competitively desirable].
     Vacations could be taken at any season of the year and the economy of the recreation sector would be greatly enhanced. At the same time overcrowding would be reduced. Longer vacations could result in fuel economies as people went someplace for a longer time, perhaps by train or bus, rather than taking many weekend trips by car. This trend is already appearing as people go skiing for a week, rather than take a weekend , and use their campers to stay at one location [for a while] rather than travel from day to day.  [As shown previously, the most desirable summer months are split between two quarters, and the same for the winter recreation months.] 

     This plan should also have many other positive effects on the national welfare. Many people would love to do constructive things around their homes and communities, but are limited by the need to work full time and the almost total lack of decent hourly wages or job security for work that is less than full time. Although such individual activities are not included in conventional economic measures, that does not mean they are any less valuable and deserving of consideration when estimating national productivity and economic health.
     With this one major innovation and the will to make it work we could achieve many of the “revolutionary” aims of youth [and even some goals of the Occupy movement] without bloodshed or depriving anyone of a decent standard of living. We would be moving a big step toward easing the problems of unemployment (both technical and hard-core), excess consumption of natural resources, overcrowding in our schools and universities, women's lack of equality, juvenile delinquency, and who knows what others. Surely such a system deserves a fair trial [at least on an experimental scale].
     [This plan could also be used in smaller increments of one or two months off work, but fit into the overall spacing of the quarters to allow transition to other planned activities like classes.]

The next (fourth) installment will describe some hypothetical "Lifestyles Under A National Quarter System."  Descriptions will be made of white collar, blue collar, suburban/urban, rural and partially retired workers and how they integrate the Quarter System into their life needs and goals with cooperation/help of employers and labor unions.


  1. Oh wow, this got every one going - fascinating input mixed with a good

    1. you mention everyone. Who might these people be. How can this be grown into a national movement?

  2. 1 While some types of business and government would be suited for your quarter system, two major groups would not be able to do it (food service and retail) and neither would any government programs associated with the poor. These groups run all year long and their high points often are not three months long and thus could not be separated into quarters. Also Food service and retail have very few full time employees in the first place due to costs and demands of time. These two groups also usually do not get any vacation periods at all due to the need for them availability to be around other job hours. Retail and food service also are current major employers in the US and would have more than enough lobbying potential to block this proposed system since it would put undue strain and costs on them.

    2. The economy will not be stabilized through the recreational sector. There is not enough demand even in good times to support a year round usage of it and not every area has the climate for year round support of it. Many summer holiday places are miserable in the winter and are avoided as such and many winter ones are miserable in the summer. It also ignores that current job market pays do not create enough of a middle class for the income you are talking about.

    3. I have noticed a pattern of your plan to completely ignore the poor of this country and the many factors into why they are poor. Where in your plan is your ideas to turn all the poor into middle class since your plan does not account for the poor and the types of jobs the poor do? This is important since they are a major portion of the population of the US.

  3. I do not see why you think retail would not find this useful. First of all I am not thinking of businesses shutting down for months at a time, I am thinking of work places with large numbers of employees being able to allow some of their workers to use time off then with a guaranteed return to work. Retail is often very slow after the holiday season. When I had an independent sales business, from Jan. through March the fall off was about 70% in sales.

    I realize that the poor is a serious issue, but this idea, even as I have outlined it, and others might be able to use it in ways I have not thought of, has some benefits. For one, some people would have more time for worthwhile volunteer activities that could help the poor. Also in the next installment I show one Family that represents the low income end of the spectrum. The idea with regard to recreation areas is that this idea would allow several more months of utilization in the seasonal vacation areas. This would definitely help the local economies.

    1. There would be no guaranteed return to work. If retail was willing to allow that there would already be that with seasonal workers. Since even though they know demand will spike, they choose to use new hires instead of last year's seasonals, they would not give any kind of guarantee to come back to work. This on top of most retail deliberately understaffs in the first place. Given seasonal turnover in most retail, its almost as if they are doing your quarter system anyways only without any benefit to the workers.

      Also if low wage workers do not make enough to get off social programs, they certainly are not going to be able to go anywhere in the country to boost seasonal vacation areas.

      Right now there is plenty of unemployed with lots of time on their hands. They aren't going out and doing hobbies or vacationing or volunteering because the majority of that costs money they can't afford to spend. Same with the thousands of part time workers in the US.

      Almost all of retail and food service is staffed by part time workers. Only the managers are ever full time in most places. These are two major industries in the US and yet because of the Pay not the hours, there is no stimulus to the economy or boon to the workers. The low minimum wage in the country is paid for by taxes since the majority of people in those jobs are on one or more social aid program.

      The issue of the poor needs to be front and center of any plan because it is very easy to fall from middle class to being poor and right now impossible to get out from being poor. If your plan relies on everyone or a majority being middle class to start with, I don't see how it can work with the society we have now.

  4. And this is why the union movement is important. Part of what I have written is based on 10 years as a union member, grievance committee member, shop steward, and negotiating two contract. All the things you say are unlikely to be possible can be, if the workers are organized and have a contract/collective agreement. The SEIU, Service Employees International Union which organizes custodial personnel and janitors among others is working to represent that job sector.