W A S H I N G T O N, Sept. 3, 2000 -- The prosperity many American families enjoy is due not only to rising wages but to more family members working—especially among black and Hispanic families, a new study says.
The study by the Economic Policy Institute, a union-supported think tank, found that an average middle-class family’s income rose by 9.2 percent, after inflation, from 1989 to 1998. But they also spent 6.8 percent more time at work to reap it.
Without increased earnings from wives, the study’s authorsconcluded, the average middle-class family’s income would haverisen only 3.6 percent over the decade.
Government figures show that while the average full-timeworker’s work week has remained fairly steady at about 43 hours,the share of married women working full-time rose from 41 percentin 1989 to 46 percent in 1998.
The EPI study said middle-class black families work an averageof 9.4 hours more per week than their white counterparts. Blackswork more hours than whites at every income level, said economistLarry Mishel, a co-author.
“To be black in America is to work more just to keep up,” he said.
Rich Hispanics Work Most
The study also found that middle-class Hispanic families workfive hours more per week than their white counterparts.
Upper-income Hispanic families work the most of any group in anyeconomic class, putting in 12.9 hours more per week than whites,the study said. Other ethnic groups were not profiled in the study.
The statistics, based on Labor Department figures, are part of abiennial report, “The State of Working America,” to be publishedin January.
While advocates for workers portray the extra hours at work as agrim necessity to keep even, business groups say they morerepresent pursuit of the American dream.
Is Overtime Voluntary?
Martin Regalia, chief economist for the U.S. Chamber ofCommerce, said much of the increase in work time is voluntary, asworkers choose to earn more and move up economically.
“We’re not the rats on a treadmill; we’re the rats that builtthe treadmill,” he said. “There’s a very, very big differencebetween making a choice to run faster today so we can take it easytomorrow versus being forced to run faster just to stay even.”
Richard L. Trumka, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, calledRegalia’s comment “absolutely ridiculous,” saying several recentstrikes over forced overtime show that many Americans want to spendless time on the job.
“The American worker wants to spend time with their family,”he said. “They value that time and they’re spending more and moretime on the job.”
Labor Secretary Alexis Herman said she has heard many of thosesame claims.
“I hear from working Americans that they’re working, oftentimes, longer and harder,” she said. “I hear from workingfamilies that they need more help to balance work and familydemands.”
Wages Did Grow
The EPI study also found that:
From 1995 to 1999, average hourly wages grew 2.6 percent peryear, far exceeding annual gains in the previous six years. Wagesfor workers in the lowest 10 percent of the work force rose 9.3percent, while wages for the top 5 percent of workers rose 8.5percent.
In 1998, 18.9 percent of American children lived in poverty,down from 19.6 percent in 1989 but still higher than the 16.4percent it was in 1979.
Middle-class families held 2.8 percent of the total growth instock market holdings between 1989 and 1998, but accounted for 38.8percent of the rise in household debt.