Lazy is the insult heaped upon these and so many other injuries Americans endure on a daily basis. Lazy is the convenient excuse used by the right to belittle those they oppose and to mitigate the guilt of defending the wealthy few. Lazy is the laziest possible approach to solving our problems. Rather than confront the realities, rather than listen to the voices of millions, rather than study the data and trends we've come to understand only too well, those who would seek to maintain the status quo lazily cast this aspersion upon our national character. How can the modern right profess a profound love of country while simultaneously expressing discontent over the profound and pervasive laziness of the American people?
But like so many rhetorical themes of the right, American laziness is just a myth, a lie, a meme to be repeated by the Limbaughs, the Cains, the Pauls and the twisted Tea Parties of the world. The reality is very different from the critique of the professional mudslingers of our society who lazily ignore the documented and well known truth that Americans are working harder than ever. Here are just a few of the facts that fly in the face of the lazy myth:
• American workers are the most productive workers in the world. No statistic does more to undermine the lazy myth than the amazing productivity of the American worker.
• 86% of males and 67% of females work more than 40 hours per week. In fact, 134 nations have established laws setting the maximum length of the work week, but the US has no such law.
• American workers work more hours than our OECD counterparts, about 137 hours more than Japanese workers, 260 hours more than the British, and almost 500 hours more than our French counterparts. In weeks, Japanese workers work about 2.5 weeks less per year, British workers almost 5 weeks less per year and German workers almost 12.5 weeks less each year.
• We are the only industrialized nation without mandatory maternity and paternity leave, and we are the only OECD nation without paid maternity leave.
• Since 1960, we have moved from 20% dual wage earner households to almost 70%
• Since 1979 middle income American families work about 11 hours more each week.
• From 1970 to 2002 American workers increased the number of hours worked by 20% while simultaneously OECD countries' workers worked less each year.
Having soundly established that American workers are anything but lazy, what of their share of the fruits of their labor? While Americans work more hours and produce more than workers around the world, they have not received the benefit of their labor. In fact, wages for all Americans, except the top 10% have been flat or declining for the last 40 years. While the top 400 wealthiest Americans have come to own more than the bottom 150 million combined, "lazy" Americans continue to work hard in order to provide for their families. What could be lazier than claiming the fruits of another’s labor and claiming it as your own? The voices on the right frequently lament that 42% of Americans don't pay income taxes, but they fail to ask the real question which is why 42% of Americans don't earn enough to rise above the poverty line. The myth of American laziness is 180 degrees from the truth. We work more, we produce more and increasingly, we earn less. Yet, we work hard, day in, day out, building this country, in spite of the criticism of the sycophants on our radios.
As American workers have added more hours to their work weeks, more wage earners to their households, and in many cases, more jobs to their lives they have received less than nothing. Over this period since the 1970s, not only have wages been flat, but benefits have been cut. Gone are pensions. Gone is comprehensive healthcare. In fact, many workers continue to offer wage and benefit cuts with each subsequent contract just so they can continue to keep their jobs.
But we don't require numbers and statistics to know that Americans aren't lazy. It simply isn't who we are. We put the first humans on the moon. We invented the internet. We developed the strongest and richest nation in the history of the world. Lazy simply doesn't fit here. So why do we allow ourselves to be called lazy, or worse still to lazily accept the notion that our friends and neighbors' laziness is destroying our great nation from within?
If we have been disinclined to activity, as Merriam-Webster defines laziness, it has been politically. From 1960 voter turnout for presidential elections has dropped from 63.1% to 56.8%. Midterm elections have fallen from 47.3% in 1960 to 37.8% in 2010.
Our labors have brought us much in the way of material wealth after World War 2 and while we enjoyed the fruits of our labor we may have forgotten that our jobs aren't the only thing that require hard work. We must outperform our counterparts around the world not just in the workplace, but also in our democracy. in lazily trusting our politicians and our corporations to watch out for our best interests as citizens and as employees we have lost much ground since the early 1970s. Wages are on the decline. Unions are on the decline. Time spent with our families is on the decline. Upward mobility is on the decline. In short, in spite of our hard work America's middle class is on the decline.
Now, even as we work more hours we must put one more responsibility upon our backs, we must carry our politicians, the wealthy elite, and our nation to the solutions of the future. We can no longer trust or rely on our politicians to fight on our behalf. Distracted by corporate money, special interests and the next election cycle, they increasingly fail to represent our interests. Money has made them lazy and they no longer work so hard for us as they once did.
Just as we add more hours to our work week to provide for our families, so too we must add more hours to our civic work. We must vote, but we must do more than vote, we must learn, we must get active in our communities, we must volunteer, we must advocate, we must hold our politicians accountable and we must fight for our nation's future.
Most of all, we must resist the temptation to lazily accept the scapegoats offered by the modern right. Americans are not lazy, we have never been. Your neighbors aren't lazy, our newest immigrants aren't lazy. The numbers don't lie, we work harder than we ever have before. We can't be the hardest working nation on the planet and be lazy at the same time. Both of these ideas can't be simultaneously true. If we stand up to the lazy myth we may just come to find that maybe our nation's greatest problem isn't laziness, but rather greed .