Most Americans say their lives feel like a rat race. Millions of us are overworked, over-scheduled, overwhelmed, just plain stressed out. Despite the promises of leisure made when the computer era was just beginning, we're working harder and longer than ever. The U.S. has traded all of its productivity gains for money and stuff, and none for time off. We work more than do the citizens of any other industrial country. Our work days are longer, our work weeks are longer, and our vacations are disappearing. In fact, one quarter of American workers got no paid vacation at all last year (every western European country guarantees a minimum of four weeks of paid leave a year). Even medieval peasants worked less than we do.
Especially in today's economy, “underwork” and “overwork” are closely related. Companies that keep workers part-time and temporary (to keep wages and benefits low) drive these part-time workers into finding extra jobs to make ends meet. Underwork breeds overwork.
“Down-sizing” (that neat euphemism for laying off workers) often leaves fewer workers to carry out the same amount of work. The numbers of the jobless climb, and so do the numbers of the overworked, as the remaining jobholders work longer under pressure to get the job done. The fear that they will be the next workers “downsized” helps spur them into overwork.
To address issues like this, the Simplicity Forum launched Take Back Your Time Day to be held on October 24, 2003—nine weeks before the end of the year, to symbolize the fact that we Americans now work nine weeks more each year than do our trans-Atlantic neighbors. Because time poverty plays a role in so many difficulties people face in their daily lives, it can unite those who seldom talk to each other—family-values conservatives, the women's movement, labor unions, environmentalists, clergy, doctors, advocates for social justice, enlightened business leaders, and the “slow food” and “simple living” movements.