UN Report Concludes Americans Are Lazy

Last Updated Aug 24, 2007 12:44 PM EDT

Americans Are LazyWith Labor Day just around the corner, Americans are gearing up to celebrate our hard work by, how else, getting away for a little relaxation. It's a long weekend of barbecues and sleeping in, but don't worry about the time away from work, we collectively tell ourselves. We've earned it.

Not really, says a new report by the UN's International Labor Organization. In fact, the survey of working hours around the world says that compared to those in developing economies, and even to some in Europe, we're downright lazy. Fortune's Geoff Colvin reported the results yesterday:

When it comes to what we might call hard work, meaning the proportion of workers who put in more than 48 hours a week, America is near the bottom of the heap. About 18% of our employed people work that much.
That's a higher proportion than in a few other developed countries like Norway, the Netherlands, and even Japan. But it's actually lower than in Switzerland and Britain, and way lower than in developing countries like Mexico and Thailand. It's drastically lower than in what may be the world's two hardest-working countries, South Korea and Peru, where the proportions are about 50%.
You're probably protesting for two reasons. One, it sure doesn't feel like we're slacking off (especially with all those news reports coming from the likes of France where everyone seems to spend all day shopping for fresh veggies and exquisite goat's milk cheeses.) And second, isn't this good news? Shouldn't we celebrate the success of our economy and its ability to make life better and easier?

Sure, says Colvin, but looking forward things might not be so rosy. He explains:

Every day more of us work in a global labor market, competing for jobs with people around the world. One thing markets do really well is fix disequilibriums; when anything tradable sells for different prices in different places, those differences soon disappear. Americans and others in developed economies are selling the world's most expensive labor. In a global market, some of those prices -- our pay -- will have to stop rising and maybe even come down, while pay in China, India, and elsewhere goes up.
If we say we believe in free trade, and many of our business and political leaders do, then shouldn't this include free trade in labor? And if there is free trade in labor (and this seems to be happening whether we want it to or not -- think outsourcing, flattening American wages, and even the recent hullabaloo over immigration) why should we expect to be protected just to maintain our lifestyles, which, if we compare them globally, are disproportionately high?

BNET readers get in on the discussion. Are Americans comparatively lazy and will we have to work harder to compete in the global labor market?

(Image of lazy day at the park by said&done, CC 2.0)

  • Jessica Stillman On Twitter»

    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.