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Posts published in “Day: July 12, 2015”

First take

That Jeb Bush quote about working hours has a few more lines of subtlety than most people, including me, originally gave it. Here's what he said, in a form long enough to be in context: “My aspiration for the country and I believe we can achieve it, is 4 percent growth as far as the eye can see. Which means we have to be a lot more productive, workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows. It means that people need to work longer hours and, through their productivity, gain more income for their families. That's the only way we're going to get out of this rut that we're in.”

My shorthanding of this was that Bush was calling on workers to work more hours - which in the case of fulltime workers, often can be expanding on what's already 50 or 60 hours, intruding in family and relaxation time, paid to a theoretical projection of a 40-hour week. That may not have been entirely fair.

A commenter, not a Jeb Bush fan, on my Facebook post where I noted this suggested, "I think what he was actually trying to say was the we need to get people who can only find parttime jobs back to working full time." That may be true, at least as part of what Bush was trying to convey, which would be reflective of a real and significant problem: The many part-time workers who want or even desperately need to get back to fulltime work.

But two other thoughts occur. One is that if Bush were trying to say that, it would have been very easy to say so: "I think we need to get back to full-time employment all those people who have only been able to find part-time work." Or something like that. Would it have been so hard?

The more important point is in looking at what he actually did say. He did not say his "aspiration for the country" is reduced unemployment for a full-time job for everyone who wants one. He said his "aspiration" is for 4% economic growth. That would be an increase - not enormous, but definite - over the current rate of growth. Overall, the United States has had strong increases in productivity for many decades. But one of the problems with the way economic growth is structured in the United States, in the last generation, is that almost all of the "growth" in wealth goes to a small sliver of wealthy people, and the vast majority gain no advantage from it. American workers have become steadily more productive over the last half-century, but middle-class wages for the last 40 years have been stagnant or worse. 90 percent of United States citizens, as matters stand, will reap no benefit from an increase in productivity to a 4% growth rate; much of that would probably come from jobs offshored or replaced by computers. The problem hasn't been productivity; it's been how the gains have been distributed.

Okay, Bush did make a quick reference to "gain more income for their families," but only as a lever to getting to that 4% growth. As Bush pursues his campaign, perhaps someone should ask him exactly who that additional growth in productivity is expected to benefit.