Even if you have a normal forty-hour work week, you probably work way more than forty hours per seven days. You just may not realize it yet.
As part of my rethinking my blog efforts, expect more random musing to appear in this space. Here’s my first attempt. If you like what you read, please check back soon or subscribe to this blog using the handy button on the right.
A good friend made me aware of invisible labor, most of which falls on women’s shoulders. It often goes unrecognized, but it taxes the laborer physically, mentally, and emotionally. As one article put it, “Invisible labor is a benign way of describing the never-ending, sometimes soul-crushing to-do list that women manage in order to keep their children thriving and households running smoothly.”
Clean houses, washed clothes, purchased necessities, prepared meals, chauffer-service, schedule management, homework assistance, event planning, celebration hosting, household budgeting, dispute arbitration, and so much more. A never-ending wave of responsibilities that a person must accomplish in order to keep a household running, often in additional to hours spent earning a paycheck.
The traditional model, the one to which those who want to “Make America Great Again” usually refer with longing nostalgia, has the husband home form his eight-hour workday, including a real lunch and other breaks, to come home and just unwind. On the weekend, he probably does odd jobs around the house, mows the lawn, and the like. But otherwise, as the breadwinner, he has earned his right to lounge.
Meanwhile, the wife has been working just as full a day, only hers began before he punched the timeclock at work and continues into the evening and night. Every weekday, every weekend. Extra work on holidays and during the summer. But because there is no dollar sign attached to that labor, people do not value it. In fact, as the term implies, they most often do not see it at all.
I whole-heartedly agree that the burden of invisible labor exists. When it and normal labor are not evenly distributed in a relationship, it leads to unfair loads heaped on one party. Responsibilities that cause stress and shorten lives in addition to the emotional toll they leave.
My friend also made me aware of how additional burdens, additional labor, has shifted onto all of us over the last several decades. It is almost an extension of the invisible labor concept, except applied to every aspect of our lives.
These days, the responsibilities involved in many things have been shifted from experts to ourselves, mostly to save corporations money. Employees used to put money into pension plans, run by managers, and, when they retired, got a decent fixed income. Now, you must direct your own retirement plans, whether through work or on your own. You must develop into a financial expert in order to make sure you do not end up living on the street when you are older. You know. In that huge amount of free time that you do not have, especially if you have to work more than one job.
Your retirement now also depends on the markets. You cannot set up anything fixed, because then your retirement savings would not grow enough to counter inflation and cover you in your retirement years. If the market wipes out, well so do you most of the time. You better hope it does not do it close to your retirement, or you will have no chance of earning enough to recover that lost money. In fact, I know plenty of people, myself included, who literally cannot envision being able to retire even though we began putting money aside early.
In addition to the problems with obtaining health insurance through work or obtaining health insurance at all, one must develop expertise on benefits and rights. Most of us have to navigate the complexities of modern insurance coverage on our own, fighting our own battles just to get the services for which we already paid huge sums of money.
We must also have medical expertise in both the physical and mental health areas. Because of the way healthcare is now structured, we often have to push and advocate even with our primary care physicians to get appropriate treatment. To do that, we must research as much as possible on our own about our symptoms, possible causes, treatments, and the like. I have had to push on even minor things like ear issues, eye care, and recently, what turned out to be chronic hives. I went over a month before I could see an allergist for my hives. My doctor knew for years that I had painful issues with my eyes, but it took a really bad incident when I went around everyone and went straight to an ophthalmologist on my own to find out I had a condition where my own eyelids tended to scratch my corneas. While my doctor responds quickly on some issues, on others she drags her feet, and I can only presume that the current organization of how or if a physician’s office gets paid influences those decisions. See, doctors’ offices must jump through insurance hoops too.
I do not think my experiences are unique. I know of plenty of people who have had to push hard to advocate for themselves on far more serious issues like cancer or heart conditions. That does not even take into account the gender and racial aspects in play, where both women and people of color are less likely to be believed when they report symptoms or issues, and thus often are misdiagnosed or made to wait far too long for treatment.
Plus, the system leaves a big part of the puzzle out of the equation. Our mental health impacts our physical health. Our mental health impacts our productiveness in additional to our general comfort, happiness, and well-being. Yet we get zero support in trying to navigate our own minds. And our primary care physicians, not being mental health professionals, do not necessarily do much better than we do by ourselves.
That friend I keep mentioning also suggested it would be great if we all had case managers assigned to us. Someone to oversee both our mental and physical health and guide us to the care we might need. I think that’s brilliant. But right now, we are stuck trying to navigate on our physical and mental health obstacle courses with no training, sometimes blindfolded. Not a great plan, as stresses from everything else pile up thus making us more susceptible to needing healthcare assistance.
Our current employment and social structures continue to heap more and more burdens upon us as individuals to cover something which specialists previously handled. Over the last year or so, I have witnessed a commercial for payroll services that pleasantly talks about what amounts to doing just that for payroll administration. Carly Fiornia happily goes on about how you, as a corporation, do not want to burden your poor HR professionals with doing all these payroll and employee benefit related tasks. Ship it out to a third-party service, who will then make each individual employee responsible for carefully monitoring their payroll and benefits. A job you, as the business, should be doing. No employee, including HR staff, wins in that scenario, just the corporation.
Our current business model is to extract as much money as you can for the least cost. No need to worry about the consumer or the employee in that equation. That means cutting corners on services provided to consumers and when it comes to employees. That includes shifting as many corporate responsibilities as possible onto either the individual employee or the individual consumer.
So, when you get home from your eight-hour workday, if you are so lucky as to only work eight-hours these days, you face all the traditional invisible labor necessary to run a household. Add to that crippling debt, especially if you paid for any higher education using student loans, which you try to manage. And now, also becoming an insurance, financial, medical, mental health, legal and so forth expert, advocating for yourself on all those grounds, and then having to take a magnifying glass a third-party site to make sure your payroll and benefits are managed properly.
You work way more than 40 hours a week, even if you have only one normal full-time job. Industry, which has the capital to pay for all this, has shifted that burden onto you. It is more economical overall for one agency to do something at once than have each employee do something individually, but obviously, the corporation will still save money by doing so. One more expense pushed off on society to corporations’ benefit at a high cost to individual human beings.
And we let them. The long-pushed doctrines of heroic American self-sufficiency and pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps help lulls us into acceptance or even encouragement of this labor shift, even as the load crushes us. “Thank you, may I have another.”
Society-wise we need to straighten out our priorities. This is one more trend that is literally breaking, not making America.
Take stock of all the labor you do, not just the stuff that earns a paycheck. I know I do way more than my parents did. How about you?