Thursday, October 29, 2015

October 29 2015. Stress—such a short word—can lead to a shorter life. Who knew! Well, everybody sentient should know (though they don’t)—but by how much?





Same difference!


I find it fascinating—and appalling—that U.S. longevity is two years or more less than that of other developed nations.

And this is the richest nation in the world! There is something profoundly wrong here.

You might think that would be a matter of concern—but it is scarcely mentioned. It is just not an issue.

It is a horrific statistic and represent a loss of human potential that is deeply disturbing—on a scale that is hard to grasp..

And yet, it is rarely even discussed.


I have long been fairly sure that stress stemming from the American Way of Life plays no small role in all this—with the deeply flawed American Business Model making a major contribution (almost certainly THE major contribution).

Business has passed most risk along to the individual—and most individuals are not well equipped to handle this. Add in low pay, minimal to no vacations, lack of worker rights, job insecurity, the virtual elimination of the defined pension, the crushing of the unions—and an authoritarian management ethos, and the total impact is, quite deliberately, extremely stressful.

In lay terms, it is mean, nasty, callous, cruel—and oppressive.

This approach has, indeed, crushed the unions, kept employees in line, pushed labor costs down, and increased short-term profitability—but at enormous social cost.

Just a cost of doing business! sums up the dismissive attitude of U.S. management. Such externalities are irrelevant!

Unfortunately, there is ever increasing evidence that such costs may be a great deal higher than is generally appreciated—even if one ignores the fact that treating one’s employees so badly is just plain morally wrong.

  • An ever increasing number of U.S. export businesses are finding that they are being out-competed by other nations, who both pay and treat their workers better. That shouldn’t be possible, according to the current American Business Model—yet there it is. Better treated workers are performing better. What a surprise!
  •  Squeezing pay so ruthlessly, over so many years, has also squeezed demand out of the U.S. home market. Workers are also consumers. If they haven’t the money to buy, at first they borrow, and then then get slowly crushed by debt (which further depresses demand). The end result is a country which, despite numerous economic advantages, seems unable to grow its economy adequately. The current ‘economic recovery’ has been the slowest recovery on record. In fact, there is every sign that another recession will hit before the U.S. economy, as far as most Americans are concerned, has recovered from the last one.
  • There is evidence that increasing numbers of Americans are disillusioned with employment—even though they are still of employment age. Many have gone on disability. Millions have just given up looking for work. Labor force participation is the lowest it has been for decades. The game is no longer worth the candle. People are just fed up. Research shows that only a small minority of people are actually engaged by their work. This is crazy. Work could, and should, be both fun and interesting—yet clearly it is not as far as most people are concerned. What a way to spend your life!
  • Productivity is suffering badly and its rate of growth is only a fraction of what it used to be—despite extraordinary advances in technology and automation.
  • Stress has a direct impact on health—and general U.S. health is now so poor that defense thought leaders have stated bluntly that it has become a matter of national security. Americans die sooner and live sicker. Over 70 percent of young Americans are too unfit to serve in the military. That is such an outrageous situation, it is had to know what to say. Obesity is rife and increasing. Half of adult Americans have a chronic condition. The average senior is on no less than seven legal medications. So many meds are now being consumed that the water supply is becoming dangerously contaminated by them.

The New York Times has recently reported on a new study which puts numbers to the consequences of stress.

The figures make for grim reading.

The U.S., the richest and best endowed country in the world, could—and should—be better than this.

One might argue (perhaps not too convincingly) that the egregious misery, which these figures represent, was worth it—if the U.S. economy, as a whole, was demonstrably superior in various ways.

The irony is that, except for the ultra rich, and their followers (a not insubstantial number) the U.S. is losing ground compared to other nations who practice a fairer, more equitable, form of capitalism.

The issue is not capitalism, as such, but how it is practiced in the U.S.

In short, the current American Business Model is a disaster—and an unnecessary one at that.

This is a sad business.

Stressful Workplaces, Shorter Lives


Typical antidotes for overwork include taking a break, exercising or going on vacation. But what if overwork is unavoidable, as is the case for many low-paid employees who must work two or more jobs just to get by? What if work-related stress is chronic, as is the case for working parents whose employers do not offer regular schedules, sick days or other company benefits? What if the amount or quality of one’s work is no protection against layoffs or abusive bosses?

The answer, detailed in a new study by researchers at Stanford and Harvard, is that work stress can and does shorten lives. The risk goes up as education level goes down, because the lower someone’s level of education, the greater the exposure to work-related stress from unemployment, layoffs, job insecurity, shift work, lack of health insurance, work-family conflict, arbitrary management and low control over scheduling and work duties.

Building on previous research on workplace stressors, the researchers measured the extent to which workplace stress cuts life short. Some findings:

• Among men with 12 or fewer years of education, non-Hispanic blacks lost nearly 2.8 years of life to work-related stress, followed by Hispanic men at 2.3 years and non-Hispanic whites at 1.72 years.

• For men with 17 or more years of education, black men lost about one year, followed by Hispanic men at 0.55 years and white men at 0.42 years.

• Among women with 12 or fewer years of education, Hispanics lost 2.06 years to work-related stress, followed by non-Hispanic blacks at 1.92 years and non-Hispanic whites at 1.4 years.

• For women with 17 or more years of education, loss of life to workplace stress was less than a year for all of three of the racial/ethnic groups in the study.

Demographers have long noted that longevity varies by gender, race, income and education. The new study found that 10 percent to 38 percent of the difference in life expectancy across demographic groups can be explained by differing levels of stress on the job.

Across all groups, the combination of layoffs, unemployment and lack of health insurance was the biggest contributor toward inequality in life spans. The next biggest was low job control, defined as the level of discretion one has over one’s work. This was followed by job insecurity in men and shift work in women.

The unavoidable conclusion is that a healthier population requires healthier workplaces. Job security would be enhanced if government officials focused on full employment in fiscal and monetary policy. Other helpful policies would include a higher minimum wage, fair-scheduling laws, paid time off and job sharing to reduce layoffs in bad economic times. Obamacare is a step in the right direction of insuring more Americans, though it appears that the only way to cover everyone is to sever the link between insurance and work.

It is customary to debate those and other issues in terms of cost versus benefits, individual responsibility versus social obligation. A more important question is how many people will die too soon before policymakers take corrective action.

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