Monday, November 24, 2014
10

Partager le travail

BERKELEY – Les Etats-Unis sont aujourd’hui confrontés à une crise liée au chômage de longue durée, sans équivalent depuis les années 1930. Près de 40 pour cent des chômeurs sont sans travail depuis six mois ou plus, un taux bien plus élevé que lors de n’importe quelle récession depuis la Seconde guerre mondiale, comme l’a relevé le président de la Réserve fédérale américaine, Ben Bernanke.

Ce chômage de longue durée a des répercussions profondément destructrices sur les vies de ceux qui le subissent. Nous le savons grâce à une série d’études détaillées conduites au pire moment de la Grande dépression des années 1930.

La plus connue de ces études, portant sur le chômage de longue durée à New Haven, Connecticut, a été menée par E. Wight Bakke, un étudiant diplômé et ensuite devenu professeur d’économie de l’université de Yale. Au moyen d’interviews des personnes participant à l’étude, de leur emploi du temps, d’observations personnelles et d’enquêtes longitudinales, Bakke a démontré comment de longues périodes de chômage entraînent une dégradation des compétences des salariés et altèrent leurs capacités à en acquérir de nouvelles. Les chômeurs de longue durée souffrent également de plusieurs problèmes physiques et psychologiques, dont le découragement, l’apathie et un sentiment de marginalisation sociale.

Pour ceux qui ont le malheur d’en faire l’expérience, le chômage de longue durée – aujourd’hui, comme dans les années 1930 – est une tragédie. Et pour l’ensemble de la société, les capacités productives d’une proportion considérable de la main d’œuvre risquent d’être amoindries.

Ce qui est en revanche moins connu est que dans les années 1930, les Etats-Unis sont parvenus, bien plus qu’aujourd’hui, à atténuer ces problèmes. Au lieu de recourir à des licenciements en masse, les entreprises ont réduit la semaine de travail de leurs employés. La semaine hebdomadaire de travail dans les secteurs manufacturier et minier est passée de 45 heures en 1929 à 35 heures en 1932. Nous le savons grâce à un article publié en 1986 par mon collègue de Berkeley James Powell et son co-auteur, nul autre que – Ben Bernanke..

Le taux de chômage de 24 pour cent atteint au plus profond de la Grande dépression n’était pas une partie de plaisir. Mais ce taux aurait été bien plus élevé si la semaine de travail des ouvriers du secteur manufacturier avait été maintenue à 45 heures. Réduire le temps de travail de 20 pour cent a permis à des millions d’ouvriers de conserver leur emploi. Ils ont continué à percevoir une rémunération. Ils ont continué à acquérir des compétences. Ils gardaient espoir, voire la possibilité d’un avancement professionnel.

Pourquoi le partage du travail s’est-il généralisé dans les années 1930 ? L’une des raisons est que le gouvernement fédéral l’a encouragé. Dans ses mémoires, le président Herbert Hoover a estimé que deux millions de travailleurs au moins ont évité d’être au chômage grâce aux mesures qu’il avait prises en faveur du partage du travail.

Une autre raison est que la législation l’encourageait. Les normes industrielles du New Deal plafonnaient le temps de travail hebdomadaire d’industries et de catégories de travailleurs spécifiques. La « Fair Labor Standards Act » (loi fédérale sur les normes d'emploi équitables) comprenait une incitation financière sous forme de l’astreinte à payer des heures supplémentaires aux employés travaillant de longues heures.

Enfin, il n’existait pas d’allocations chômage pour décourager ce partage du travail. Aujourd’hui, une personne hésitant entre un travail de 20 heures par semaine ou les allocations chômage pourrait être tentée par cette dernière option. Mais dans les années 1930, avant l’assurance-chômage, 20 heures de travail étaient mieux que rien.

L’assurance-chômage ne compense bien sûr qu’une fraction de l’ancienne rémunération de la plupart des salariés, ce qui laisse à penser qu’elle n’a pas une influence si forte que cela. Mais si l’assurance-chômage ne décourage pas le partage du travail, elle pourrait être revue pour l’encourager. Des allocations partielles pourraient être versées aux personnes qui travaillent à horaire réduit, au lieu de limiter ces allocations aux personnes qui sont complètement au chômage. Un tel programme pourrait s’autofinancer, en partie du moins, les allocations supplémentaires versées aux personnes à temps partiel étant compensées par un chômage moindre (et donc le versement d’allocations moindres à ceux qui sont entièrement sans travail).

En fait, les Etats-Unis disposent déjà d’un régime analogue, connu sous le nom de Short-Time Compensation (allocations de courte durée). Les salariés peuvent percevoir des allocations chômage au pro rata de leurs heures de travail lorsque leur employeur a soumis un plan de partage du travail, dont les coûts de mise en œuvre par les États sont partiellement couverts par le gouvernement fédéral. Au dernier décompte, 24 États avaient commencé à adapter leurs systèmes d’assurance-chômage pour tirer parti de cette mesure.

Malheureusement, les incitations financières fournies par le gouvernement fédéral se limitent principalement à aider les États à faire connaître et à gérer leurs programmes. Et ces programmes sont à leur tour trop modestes, en particulier pour rendre intéressant le partage du travail aux yeux des salariés ayant une certaine ancienneté et plus ou moins sûrs de conserver un emploi à temps plein.

D’autres pays sont allés plus loin. En Allemagne, par exemple, le programme Kurzarbeit (temps de travail court) du gouvernement fédéral compense en grande partie le manque à gagner lorsque la rémunération du salarié baisse de plus de 10 cent en raison d’un horaire de travail réduit.

Le gouvernement fédéral américain pourrait s’inspirer de cet exemple en compensant plus généreusement les États pour leurs régimes d’allocations de courte durée. Ne pas le faire inflige non seulement des épreuves et des souffrances inutiles aux chômeurs, mais menace également d’infliger des coûts à long terme à la société américaine.

Traduit de l’anglais par Julia Gallin

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    1. CommentedAndrew Purdy

      There were also no such thing as health benefits in the 1930s. For low wage workers, benefits are a large fraction of fixed costs, and can even exceed the take home pay.

    2. Commentedphilip meguire

      Between 1929 and 1933, the number of nonfarm private sector full time equivalent jobs declined 29%. In 1933, per capita disposable income was $1/day. This at a time when there was no unemployment insurance or food stamps or Social Security, when nearly all private sector jobs did not offer pensions, and when welfare was at most $5/week or simply did not exist. Many rural Americans burned wood, grew vegetables, raised chickens, and waited for better times. Very scarce money was reserved for property taxes and a bit of gasoline.

      In such a world, a layoff of more than 4-6 months' duration could be a death sentence. And so many private employers cut pay and hours, but kept as many of their core experienced people as they could afford. This happened to my great uncle, whose pay rate was cut and whose hours were cut to mornings only. He got by because he had no children, and because his wife had come into a small inheritance. I deem what his employer did to be a disguised pension.

      I would use "labour sharing" to describe factories and the like being open, say, 8-10 hours a day, but workers working 4-5 hour shifts. It is my impression that many factories in the worst years of the Depression worked mornings only. Many shops at Bethlehem Steel worked only 18 hours/week. I do not know if that was 3 hours before lunch, 6 days a week. I do know that the Navy paid BS a subsidy in order to keep going.

      Focus on the employment-population ratio (EPR). Regrettably, the BLS does not report the measure I would prefer, namely that for persons between their 25th and 62nd birthdays, who are neither institutionalised nor deemed permanently disabled by Social Security. Also avoid seasonally adjusted data. Seasonal adjustment is a great creator of fictional jobs, and destroyer of real jobs lol...

      Before the crisis, the EPR was about 63.5%. It is now about 58.5%, about what it was in 1977. Hence the Great Recession has destroyed one out of every 13 jobs. But a significant part of the problem is that over the past 30 years, we have become accustomed to a level of labour force participation that before 1978 was only attained in wartime. What we have experienced of late is a sharp rise in GDP per full time equivalent employee, in other words, in labour productivity. This is not entirely a bad thing. The issue then becomes one of spreading more widely the benefits of that increased productivity. The way forward I propose is a "demogrant" of $350/month paid to every legal resident of the USA. This demogrant is part of a flat tax system I advocate and have described in detail elsewhere.

        Commentedphilip meguire

        And a few states should immediately trial fractional unemployment benefits for those on reduced hours. That said, I suspect that a lot of people working part time are doing so not because they are working reduced hours in what used to be a full time job, but because part time work is the best the could find after being laid off from a full time job. If we make all part time workers eligible for fractional unemployment benefits, the taxpayer will find itself paying billions to WalMart's work force!

    3. CommentedFrank O'Callaghan

      This goes to the core question of how we should organize our society. What should we produce and how should we distribute it?

      We have improved our productivity to unimaginable levels but our distribution methods are woefully inadequate. In a world of plenty we have conspired to create poverty, debt and fear.

      We need to share much more than the work.

        Commentedphilip meguire

        Tax all value added by employers, all wages and interest paid by government, and all cash social benefits, at a flat 35% rate. Credit FICA and Medicare tax payments against this flat tax liability. Pay all legal residents of the USA a tax-free $350/month "demogrant." I predict that this would move the USA about half way to budget balance AND, when combined with food/energy stamps and Medicaid, would largely extinguish desperate poverty. When the long term unemployed would go back to work, they would lose their food stamps and perhaps Medicaid eligibility, but not the demogrant.

    4. Commentedjames durante

      No one should ever work.

      Work is the source of nearly all the misery in the world. Almost any evil you’d care to name comes from working or from living in a world designed for work. In order to stop suffering, we have to stop working.

      My minimum definition of work is forced labor, that is, compulsory production. Both elements are essential. Work is production enforced by economic or political means, by the carrot or the stick. (The carrot is just the stick by other means.) But not all creation is work. Work is never done for its own sake, it’s done on account of some product or output that the worker (or, more often, somebody else) gets out of it. This is what work necessarily is. To define it is to despise it.

      The anthropologist Marshall Sahlins, surveying the data on contemporary hunter-gatherers, exploded the Hobbesian myth in an article entitled “The Original Affluent Society.” They work a lot less than we do, and their work is hard to distinguish from what we regard as play. Sahlins concluded that “hunters and gatherers work less than we do; and rather than a continuous travail, the food quest is intermittent, leisure abundant, and there is a greater amount of sleep in the daytime per capita per year than in any other condition of society.”

      What I really want to see is work turned into play. A first step is to discard the notions of a “job” and an “occupation.” Even activities that already have some ludic content lose most of it by being reduced to jobs which certain people, and only those people are forced to do to the exclusion of all else. Is it not odd that farm workers toil painfully in the fields while their air-conditioned masters go home every weekend and putter about in their gardens? Under a system of permanent revelry, we will witness the Golden Age of the dilettante which will put the Renaissance to shame. There won’t be any more jobs, just things to do and people to do them.

      Bob Black
      "The Abolition of Work"

        Commentedphilip meguire

        The turnover of most firms is procyclical. How should the resulting risk be borne? The notion that employees should bear no risk except a heightened probability of job termination is one that we should move on from. and is not one our preindustrial ancestors would have experienced. Corporate HR should very seriously entertain reduced rates and hours as well as layoffs.

        Traditional farming involved a burst of hard work to plow and plant, and another burst at harvest time. The rest of the year was a rather relaxed affair. If there were no cows to milk, it was not unknown for farmers to be in no hurry to get out of bed. A major reason for the enormous rise in GDP per capita since 1700 has been a dramatic rise in working hours and work effort. The main way we work less than people did before WWII is that we can afford to retire when we are still healthy.

    5. CommentedCharles St Pierre

      The bosses, ie the wealthy, pay themselves too much. If they paid themselves less, there would be more money to pay the people who actually do the work. More people would have jobs. More work would get done. See:

      http://anamecon.blogspot.com/2011/09/unemployment-average-wage-and.html

      But Zsolt Hermann is also right. The world needs to get on a sustainable course, and quickly. But there is actually a lot of work involved in doing this, since much of the capitalization involved in today's society is a poor investment in a sustainable future. The US, for instance, with its suburbs and mainly dependent on its vast network of roads, is poorly positioned for a future of expensive energy.

    6. CommentedZsolt Hermann

      Undoubtedly one of the main features of the ongoing global crisis is the growing unemployment.
      If we consider the reasons behind the crisis, the unsustainable constant quantitative growth economic model, and that about 90% of all the production happening today is completely unnecessary and even harmful for a normal human life in the 21st century, we will se unprecedented number of unemployed people into the billions world wide, regardless of the development level of the countries.
      According to certain statistics about 10-15% percent of the world population can provide the necessities giving all 7 billion people a normal, comfortable life with the necessities of food, housing, clothing, health and security, so when humanity returns to a necessity and resource based economy in order to come out of the crisis and survive we have to figure out what to do with the rest of the billions.
      We have to first understand there is no "happy ending" here, the way we live today is unnatural, and we are only part of a vast natural system we are going against with our excessive, exploitative ways, thus we have no choice but to adapt to the laws and conditions around us.
      Instead of the cosmetic solutions, and wasting all our resources on institutions that have no future, present day leaders should prepare for the transitional period creating supplies and provisions for each and every one of us to maintain the necessities, avoiding mass hunger, plagues and consequent riots, and other violent scenarios.
      In the meantime they also need to plan and initiate a global, integral education plan in order to explain people why we are where we are, what the new global, integral world means, why we cannot continue with our present socio-economic models and what options we have to build a new system for all of us.
      The information is already all around is, but nobody puts it together for general use.
      As we start building a new mutually responsible system based on our true necessities without excesses, we will understand that the present day unemployment we consider as a tragedy looking from the viewpoint of today's lifestyle is actually the road to freedom from the slavery of the consumer system where everybody is endlessly chasing goods they do not even need and never would have wanted if not for the brainwashing of the marketing system influencing us 24/7.
      Whether we want it or not it is time to disconnect from the "Matrix".

    7. CommentedProcyon Mukherjee

      I have seen the German or the Swiss system working very closely, where the 'short time' work is organized in a manner that the loss is shared between the worker, the State and the company or the employer; this credo of sharing the burden when the recession strikes is the fundamental driver of change and buoyancy that we find missing in America, where partisanship and blame-game make the partnerships a remote possibility. Partnership between the employer, employee and the government and a responsibility to partner together in times of crisis would have gone a long way to reduce the sordid impacts of long-term unemployment; the solution lies in this partnership.

      Procyon Mukherjee

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