Your Work or Your Life?

By Xin Lu on 9 July 2008 (Updated 10 May 2009) 39 comments
Photo: Death

Today my friend showed me an article about a Toyota engineer who died from overwork. Apparently the 45 year old Japanese man was working 80 hours of overtime a month for two months and finally his heart gave out. It is a sad example of a person who chose his job over his life.

In Japan, deaths resulting from overwork is called "karoshi " and Japan's Ministry of Labor has been publishing statistics about the problem since the 1980s. It has been shown that many workers that die from overworking die from strokes or heart attacks, and the deaths are usually quite sudden. Many workers also commit or attempt suicide due to work induced depression.

Personally, I have never worked an extreme amount of overtime even though I am an engineer in the Silicon Valley and this is a place full of workaholics. However, I have seen the effects of extreme overtime on people. A company I used to work for has an Indian office where people worked 14 to 16 hour days. One of my ex-coworkers went over to India for a short while and actually fell ill because he was working the same extreme hours as them. After he came back the CEO cut the hours at the Indian office to 12 hours a day. I think there is no point to working more than 8 or 9 hours a day because when a person is tired and stressed he or she would not be extremely productive.

When work is not mandatory, I have met two types of people who work overtime. The first type is the stakeholders that are passionate about their job. For example, I have met CEOs that work from 7am to 1am because they are bent on buliding their own company. In other words, work is life for these people. The second type is the people who need or want money. I have met a guy that had two full time jobs so he worked 16 hours a day and then slept and another guy that works overtime purely for the overtime pay. In either case, I think there needs to be moderation because everyone needs time to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

So do you choose your work or your life? It is a no brainer for me since I would gladly choose "homeless and alive" over "rich and dead". For those people whose lives are inseparable with their work the choice might not be so clear. Regardless of how much you love your work, if your work starts to affect your physical and mental health significantly, then it may be wise to cut back.

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Guest's picture
Zopper

Wow, 80 hours of overtime a month?

Isnt that only a 60 hour work week? I should be so lucky

and honestly thats not a whole lot

Andrea Karim's picture

I believe that overtime is, technically, hours that you work outside of a normal, 40-hour work week. So, 80 hours of overtime would be 120 hours of work per week, leaving 48 hours per week for sleeping, eating, and relaxing.

Guest's picture
Jen S.

The articles state 80 overtime hours per MONTH, which comes to about 20 overtime hours per week. As Zopper said, that's 60 hours a week, at least according to our standard of the 40-hour work week in the US.

I personally have no interest in working that many hours, but have plenty of work-loving friends who put in that kind of time. I really don't think that in itself is enough to kill a person.

Guest's picture

I get to call my hours, as well as my rates. I really focus on building my skillset to a level where I can work as quickly and efficiently as possible, while turning out ever-better quality for my clients. I do this not to be able to keep jam-packing my workday, but to be able to have a lot of free time to myself, to relax and learn new skills (cooking, playing the piano).

Through a system of living frugally, and working efficiently, I've found myself doing as well financially as many of my friends and college alum working up to 60 hour work weeks, when I'm just down in the 30's (sometimes less!). And in the end I feel like I'm a lot less of a worrywort and more upbeat on life after college than they are.

I'd say I'm pretty happy working this many hours a week, and I hope to continue being paid better and better for my wares.

Guest's picture
Aaron

I try to find a balance. I will gladly put in the overtime and weird hours (self employed), but not for huge periods of time with out unplugging for a day or 2. As it stands, my late August/early September is going to be INSANE so in mid August I'm treating myself to several days completely off (no voicemail, email or anything) and mountain biking.

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

Yeah, Japan also has a 40 hour work week normally, but I think most people work more.  In the case of my Indian coworkers they were putting in 80 hours a week pretty regularly.  That's pretty bad. 

Guest's picture
Sam

Japanese are notoriously workaholics. When I was in Japan, I asked one guy how come they are so rich and efficient. He told me that majority works like hell and they only stopped working and enjoyed vacation during Saturdays and Sundays which they "copied" from the Americans when stayed in their country after World War 2. Nevertheless most Japs still work more than 8 hours a day.

Here in my country (Philippines), where people enjoy a very close family ties, we don't like working for more than 8 hours and we feel that our company steals our quality family time if they want us to work more than 8.

To conclude, it matters what you value most..work or life? For me, I just tried doing blogs so that if this turns out OK, then I can quit my 8-5job and spend more time with family.

Cheers!
Sam

Andrea Karim's picture

Crap. So much for my reading skills.

I've worked 100 hour weeks before, but it wasn't so bad. It was during the dotcom boom, and they fed us every day. There was a pingpong table. Could have been worse. I wouldn't do it again, but now I'm old and just can't sit in a chair for that long.

Guest's picture
Jaems

I think we all did. We were well-oiled machines just chomping at the bit. The 100 hour weeks consumed us but we were also flooded with so much money and return that it seemed as if we were having a good time.

For me, it was pure delusion. Now I struggle to make ends meet and I'm a very skilled IT professional/manager. I tend not to work overtime since I'm salary but I always make sure to go home with everything being done (so if that means an extra hour here or there, then certainly it will happen).

But at the end of the day, it's important to "unplug", take a walk, eat some dinner, and remember why you work in the first place.

Guest's picture

This is a tough question. I mean this guy in Japan was extreme. Who would EVER choose to work over living? I felt silly even writing that...

There are times when you have to work stupid amounts of hours. You have to have balance. Everyone's work is important. It pays bills and allows you to be who you are. Never put it in front of your life and always recognize the body's little hints that you may be overdoing it.

I just wrote a very good article on Temperance. I just wish this guy would have read it too.

Guest's picture

It's true what they say that too much of anything isn't good, even work. You definitely need to find a nice balance between work and the rest of life. Dude should have taken a long lunch.

Guest's picture
bleh bleh

I enjoyed overtime, and its pay, when I was younger, and poorer. Now that I am older, and more financially stable, I would much rather have the time. Still, there are times when I find it necessary to work overtime in order to get things done. I have no problem with it as the exception verses the rule.

Guest's picture
Jen

My poor Husband has been working 24/7 for years, now.
He works at his main job on Mon-Fri, and that's usually around 50+ hours, then on Sat-Sun, he works a weekend job, usually about 8 hours each day.

He is SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO depressed these days.
He has time to do NOTHING.
Our kids are 9 and 5, and he's barely seeing them grow up.
He sees them at night, (tonight and all this week, he's gotten home at 8pm, after going in at 6am.) and he sees them a little on the weekend, when his hours are more normal (8-4pm)

He enjoys golfing, fishing, spending time with friends, etc....but gets time to do NONE of it.
Sometimes on Fri and Sat nights, he'll "chill out" with a few beers and socialize with the neighbors, and he has so much fun, he'll stay up WAY WAY too late, and then DRAGS himself around the whole next day.
He was just trying to enjoy life!!

I don't work, and the guilt is thick for me. But I watch the kids all day, and that in itself, would cost as much as I would make at a job, and someone ELSE would be raising them, which is NOT acceptable to us.
When they go to school full time, I intend to get some sort of job, but I have no skills, and no talents, so it won't be much.
It never was for me.

My Husband just wants his family to have all the things he couldn't have when he was growing up. (they were pretty poor.)
He wants us to move ahead. He wants a new place to live for us, instead of living here in the center of town, away from the nature that our kids love so much.
He wants it all for us, even though I remind him all the time, that what WE want, is all of HIM.
Pretty soon the kids will be too old to care about "family time", or fishing with Dad, and that breaks my heart.
He needs to stop this, YESTERDAY!!!!

His entire body hurts all the time. His bones ache, his shoulder hurts when he lifts it up. His legs are so sore, he can't even take a nice walk with us at night, or slowly stroll the local carnival. He doesn't even enjoy fishing anymore lately, because it's just too much "work" to fish.
He's in great shape, but I worry everyday, that his body will suddenly give out.
He can't take much more of this, and neither can we.

That's what you get for living the American Dream.
You work around the clock for peanuts, live in a roach infested house (they are not REAL roaches...another species of cockroach, not like the NYC ones you think of!) and barely scrape by when the food and gas prices go up, and gradually dip into your tiny savings account that you worked SOOOO hard to build up (the highest has only ever been about $3000.) just to put food on the table and feed the dog, and stay in your little, crappy, no closets, row home, where you can't even see the light at the end of the tunnel.
That's the American Dream.
That's how MOST of America lives.
And we can't figure out how to have better lives and help ourselves as a nation. (for a start, let's NOT help EVERYONE ELSE!!!! Eh???? Ehhhh?????? Light Bulb moment here?? Ehhh?!!?)
I'm not impressed.
Sorry, but I would NOT die for this country, and I would NOT allow my kids to, either. (I'd knock them out and smuggle them into Canada if I had to, to keep them from war!)

There's a whole world out there, beyond borders and map lines.
And we'll live our whole lives, doing the SAME crap, every single day, just to survive, have a cell phone, and a car that gets you there....AND back!
Somewhere along the lines, Humans lost their way, and no one even cares enough to TRY and get back on the right path.
And no, I don't even know what the right path is.
But there's gotta be something better than THIS.

Rant over.

Guest's picture
Guest

Dear Jen:

I also am not living the American Dream I thouht I was going to live when I was younger. But I will tell you about the life I do live. We live in a small house with several things wrong in our house from holes in the floor to droopy ceiling fans and electricity that goes out far to often from power surges. We have lived this way for many years. I have a wonderful husband who also works 80 to 105 hours in any given week. I think we are not that much alike in situations, but in attitude I think their are great differences. I also would like to see my husband slow down but thats probably not going to happen soon, so I make sure he has tea and me to greet him at the door when he comes home. Me and or the children rub his feet after work, the children wait on him hand and foot out of love and respect not fear or anger. They sit on our bed at night and we talk and pray together after his shower and home cooked meal.. He loves his family and they love and appreciate him and we would never publically say anything bad about him or let him in any way think he's not providing well enough for us. Our love for him goes much further than what he makes or provides. Skip ahead a few years now and ask my kids weather they remember the house we lived in or the cars we drove or do they remember the holidays he missed. No they remember Dad hiding their Christmas bikes in the well house a month befor Christmas and them not finding it. They remember Dad could not make it to the hospital when his first Grandchild was born but he openly cried the next morning when he held her for the first time and now he sees her everyday because I still don't have a job and I watch her everyday. This is his gift to me. I have seen both of my children say their first words and take their first steps and now the same for my grandchild and he hears about everything second hand. He may not be their everyday, but everyday would not happen without him and he knows it. Sometimes attitude can change the situation. This is not meant to hurt your feeling or offend, just to show a differenc.

Guest's picture

James Michener said:
"A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing.

To himself, he always seems to be doing both."

[http://www.365motivationalquotes.com/2008/04/the-master-in-t.html]

As this quote suggests, the challenge is to develop a career for yourself that is flexible and that you enjoy enough that you can "live to work" instead of just "working to live".

That's why I work online, on my own businesses, and help other people do the same. Life is too short to spend it making other people rich.
Scott Fox
The E-Commerce Success Blog

Guest's picture
Kellye

You work around the clock for peanuts, live in a roach infested house (they are not REAL roaches...another species of cockroach, not like the NYC ones you think of!) and barely scrape by when the food and gas prices go up, and gradually dip into your tiny savings account that you worked SOOOO hard to build up (the highest has only ever been about $3000.) just to put food on the table and feed the dog, and stay in your little, crappy, no closets, row home, where you can't even see the light at the end of the tunnel.
That's the American Dream.
That's how MOST of America lives.
And we can't figure out how to have better lives and help ourselves as a nation. (for a start, let's NOT help EVERYONE ELSE!!!! Eh???? Ehhhh?????? Light Bulb moment here?? Ehhh?!!?)
I'm not impressed.

Frankly, neither am I. Your idea of poverty is barely being able to have a car and a cell phone? Only having $3000 dollars in your savings account? Give me a break.

You don't have to sell your children into slavery or brothels to keep them from starving to death. You have indoor plumbing. You don't have to beg on the street.

You are not poor. You don't have dirt floors, you have medical care, you can afford a pet, you can afford to stay home with your children (you can afford to HAVE children) and you have a government which cares whether you live or die. That's so much more than the majority of people in the world have it's ridiculous.

Attitudes like this are why people despise Americans. You have so much prosperity and freedom you aren't even willing to defend it. You have no idea what those words even really mean. You have no context to judge the quality of your life against. You are ridiculously lucky.

Stop feeling sorry for yourself and appreciate what you have. You obviously have NO idea what kind of a hellhole you could be living in right now. Show some gratitude.

Guest's picture
AndyS

Work is such an important part of people's identity and they choose it over life because they think they are making a difference. I recently wrote about this here and feel that work and finding meaning from it is too overrated.

In fact, whoever coined the phrase "making a difference" has made a difference, though not a positive one. The phrase gestures towards grandiose achievement that is out of reach for almost everybody. Most of us make very little difference at all – which stands to reason if you think there are 150 million workers in the US alone, making it almost impossible that any of us will make a difference, except to the people we work directly with.

But what is the matter with that? Why isn't that enough? Indeed, according to a survey published last week by YouGov, having nice colleagues is as important as money in persuading employees to stay in their jobs. This means that simply by being liked by your colleagues you are making a difference, even if only a modest one.

Guest's picture
Erin

Jen,

You always...ALWAYS...have choices. You could take out a student loan to go back to school while you're home with your kids. That way, when they do go to grade school, you'll have a better chance at having a job that pays half decently. I know a woman who has 2 children, 2 full time jobs, and still manages to get great grades on her schooling, which requires a LOT of time and equipment.

You could sell things online, complete online surveys, do dog walking or pet sitting on the side, find a skill and sell a service.

You could work nights after your husband comes home from his job, and relieve the burden on him to have that weekend job, since you're SO concerned for his mental and physical wellbeing.

There are always ways for you to make extra money, and to cut back on your spending. Every cent counts when things are that tight (trust, me I know what it's like to barely make it every month) so TRACK every cent that you make, get rid of anything other than bare necessities (a cell phone is not a necessity, either is cable tv), and start saving more instead of dipping into your savings so that one day you just might have the money to move out of your "roach infested" home or do whatever else you may be looking forward to. Don't sit there whining about it, do something about it.

And in the mean time, remember your life isn't that bad. You have a husband whose giving all his time selflessly to provide for his family, to make sure that you don't have to go to work, to put food on your table and pay your cell phone bill.
There are millions of people out there who would sell their souls to have what you have.

Guest's picture
Anonymous Coward

@kellye

Rich and poor are all relative terms. Stop badmouthing someone because you don't understand the conditions.

I spend a few months a year in Haiti, and I know very well what the standards of living are in third world countries. But there are some people who have no homes, jobs, or money that are wonderfully rich. They have each other and an incredible faith in God. Believe it or not, they thank him for what they have.

Now a response to the article...

Working very hard to provide for your family is how some people show their family they love them. My grandfather regularly worked 50 hour weeks to provide for his 6 children. So did many people of that era. I don't think he ever told his sons "I love you", but he showed it by providing a nice place for them to grow up in.

It may kill some, and certainly working too much will depress anyone, but some people may just be trying to express their love for their families by providing the best they possibly can.

Guest's picture
Kelja

Jen complains too much, methinks.

The American Dream is alive and well. That doesn't mean everyone can figure it out.

Guest's picture
Kellye

Rich and poor are all relative terms. Stop badmouthing someone because you don't understand the conditions.

I spend a few months a year in Haiti, and I know very well what the standards of living are in third world countries. But there are some people who have no homes, jobs, or money that are wonderfully rich. They have each other and an incredible faith in God. Believe it or not, they thank him for what they have.

I was not badmouthing her, I was being blunt. After reading what she wrote, I was angry enough to say much worse.

Telling someone they should appreciate what they have and consider themselves lucky should not be construed as an insult. It's a reality check.

Sure, rich and poor are relative conditions - in case it wasn't immediately obvious, that was my whole point. It's a little much to whine on about how you can barely afford to pay your cell phone bill when there are people dying in the streets of places like Mumbai, Darfur, and Port au Prince.

To rich Americans Jen is poor. To the other 95% of the world, Jen lives like a princess.

Cell phones are not a necessity. A twelve-pack of beer on the weekends to "chill out" with the neighbors is not a necessity. Pets are not a necessity. Cars are not a necessity. Neither is a place "close to nature for the kids"...or the time to "stroll along at the carnival"...these are *luxuries*, not necessities. It irritates me to hear people complain about stuff like this when there are people who don't even have enough to feed or clothe their kids, much less spend time with them.

Yes, I DO understand the conditions. I've been at her level of poverty before and considered myself lucky to have what I had. And if you really spend a few months a year in a third world country, hearing someone complain about having any kind of home to live in should make you indignant too.

I agree with Erin. If Jen really feels badly about her husband's wellbeing, she should take on a night job, sell something, do *anything* but sit around and complain that she has no skills. Because this is America. If you have no skills or education, it's not because the opportunity wasn't available. It's because you didn't take advantage of it.

The American dream isn't the right to prosperity. It's only the potential for a better life. This country is full of amazing opportunities. But that potential can only be realized through hard work, discipline, and sacrifice.

Guest's picture
BK

You guys can keep your 8 hour days. I'm happy to work 12 hours a day. See you in the boardroom.

Guest's picture
Linda

i sort of think the way jen thinks. my husband has a job he works very hard at 6 days a week, and it puts the food on the table. but other people have jobs they don't do much at, and they live like rock stars.
i think america is all backwards. like idolizing celebrities...they make so much money, they could feed third world countries. and all they do is act! shouldn't doctors, nurses, daycare workers all make more than an actor? i think so.
there is so much wrong with the country these days, just read a recent poll of americans. they all say the country is going downhill fast.
i don't compare myself to third world countries when i compare the way i live. i compare myself to other americans. when i see someone making thousands of dollars more than my own husband, for playing ping pong and lounging on couches at Google.com, while my husband works his ass off, it makes me mad, and it doesn't seem right. and my husband's job is something americans need. something the country would not run, without. we could live without google!
i get what you're saying, jen.
compared to others, who work a lot less, your husband probably does a lot more and makes less. right? at least that's the way i feel.

Guest's picture
Guest

If my wife complained as much as Jen, I would work all the time too.

Guest's picture
Jen

Man, you guys aren't getting my point.
My Husband works his *ss off, 7 days a week, and we are what people would call "lower middle class".
Yet, others do so much less than him, and live in their McMansions, with their boats, and Gap clothes and drive their Lexus'....

So it sucks that we can never get ahead. Sure, we're much better off than we were 10 years ago. But this society doesn't seem to allow much "getting ahead" room.

He makes $1400 a week. And brings home hundreds and hundreds less than that.
Why?
Because we have to pay for Iraq to fix and rebuild their country.
Are they even thankful?
No. They blow us up left and right.
And WE are the ones paying most of it. The middle class. The people who REALLY work hard to get their 2 whole panels of white picket fence.

So my Husband is left to work, work, work, and work.
So that other countries can have a better life?
What have they done for US?????????????
That's what I thought.......NOTHING.
And if their new democracy works out (if they can ever get their sh*t together and LET IT WORK OUT) and they get nice and rich and prosperous....do you think they'll EVER do anything for us?
NO.
But lets send my Husband's hard earned cash over there, shall we?
Yeah. Cause WE don't want it.

And that other person was right. I do NOT compare myself to other countries when I count my blessings.
I compare myself to America.

I live in a tiny row house, in the middle of town, where in front of every house is a work truck with a ladder rack and tools, and a nicer car for the wives and kids to use.
Yes, we ARE lucky compared to a lot of people.
But when I see my friend's sister's home, who is on WELFARE for NO reason at all, except that HER mom was on welfare all her life, and there she is, in her nice apartment, with her central air, dishwasher and garbage disposal, with her kids in their Gap clothes, and her with her pretty nails, goverment cheese milk, eggs, peanut butter and orange juice, and let's not forget her FREE health care and her PERFECT teeth, and she never worked a day in her life....

I say we went WRONG somewhere.

I would LOVE a garbage disposal! I would LOVE a dishwasher! And I sure would LOVE central air, right now.
But do I have them?
NO.
Why? Because MY Husband works his *ss off 7 days a week, and almost half of it supports that lazy loser chick AND all her neighbors!

So yeah, I'm "tiffed" when Sunday rolls around, and my Kids ask me when Dad is getting home from work, and I say "probably at 5".
It's not right.
He's practically killing himself for everyone ELSE in the world.

I never complain to him. It's not his fault. So he didn't become a doctor. I never expected that from him.
I would just think that for the hours he works, we might have a garbage disposal or something!

And yes, I intend to get a job when the kids are in school full time next year. I wish I could get one now. But with his hours being all over the place from one day to the next, I could never make it to a job on time. We've already tried that.

Maybe he should just quit, then we can live in a NICE house, built and maintained by the government, fridge stocked by the government, and clothes, nails, and medical care BY THE GOVERNMENT.
Then we could live our happy lives.

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

Hi Jen,   from your description it seems that you're really angry at all the taxes your family has to pay.  Well, I agree that it's pretty annoying.  My husband and I paid almost 40k last year in federal and state taxes and we can't even afford to buy a tiny row home here in the Bay Area.  If you hubby works a bit less he has to pay less taxes so it might be good to let him take a bit time off if your budget allows it. When you do get a new job you should check if it's really worth it, too.  The marriage penalty on taxes might come back in full force if the Bush Tax cuts were repealed.  Anyway, I have actually thought of quitting my job to get low income status and claim various benefits like subsidized housing and escape the endless taxes.  So I sort of understand where you are coming from on that point. 
 

Guest's picture
wildgift

@jen - I feel for you, but I don't understand why you can't afford a garbage disposal. They aren't that expensive, and the pipe to hook it up is not too expensive. :)

I agree with you. There certainly are some terrible gaps between entitlements for the poor, and entitlements for working people. Back in the past, the real "minimum wage" was a lot higher, and working paid off better. That's when these relatively high humanitarian standards of housing, medical care, and other entitlements for the poor were established.

The problem is, in the past 30 years or so, the wage bottom has dropped, and there's a gap between welfare benefits for non-workers and the expenses you have to incur as a worker purchasing services in the private market.

So, we probably have to adjust a few things - entitlements to the poor should probably be decreased, and some subsidies like section 8 might stand a cut, but we also need to mandate a higher minimum wage, perhaps nationalize health care, and perhaps increase some public spending for entitlements that working people can use. In this way, our taxes are used to benefit more working people, more directly. Expanding entitlements can also lower the up-front and ongoing costs for a poor person's entry into the workforce.

Certain kinds of "welfare", like a lower bus fare, universal health care, reduced public college fees, or after-school programs, translate into more cash-in-hand for most people, and have a levelling effect on incomes (because more affluent people pay more taxes, but everyone benefits from these savings).

We have seen the terrible effects of years of ideological opposition to "government programs". On the one hand, we've got an economy in decline, and our "bootstraps" are frayed and weak. Opportunity to benefit handsomely from your work isn't so common as it used to be (though the opportunity to overwork, and compete with engineers doing 12-14 hour workdays seems to have increased!).

On the other hand, we had a military surplus that allowed us to invade an oil-rich nation in the hopes of toppling its government (and that was an accomplished mission) and replace it with a compliant government eager to work with western oil companies (has not happend quite yet).

Perhaps if the welfare spending we a touch greater, and the military spending were a bit lower, we'd be complaining about lazy liberals and the 32 hour work-week, and not so angry at Bush and Arabs, and upset about our 60 hour work weeks.

@xin - I hope you were joking. These days, you have to be poor to get all those freebies, and they don't last long. After 6 months, they make you do menial labor for less than minimum wage.

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

@xin - I hope you were joking. These days, you have to be poor to get all those freebies, and they don't last long. After 6 months, they make you do menial labor for less than minimum wage.

Actually you don't have to be that poor in my county to get subsidized housing.  Median income for a family of 4 is $90k here so any family making under that can qualify for Section 8 and a variety of other government programs like subsidized insurance.   These benefits are completely different from unemployment.  Yes there is a long wait list for seciton 8, but the people on the program receive subsidies worth more than my rent.  If I quit my job I could cut out 20k in taxes, and if I can get section 8, heck that's worth another 20k.  So no I am not joking.   I get mad at taxes and government welfare sometimes, too.  

Guest's picture
Kellye

i don't compare myself to third world countries when i compare the way i live. i compare myself to other americans. when i see someone making thousands of dollars more than my own husband, for playing ping pong and lounging on couches at Google.com, while my husband works his ass off, it makes me mad, and it doesn't seem right. and my husband's job is something americans need.

Let me go on record saying that I feel for you, and I really do think that American economic stratification is absolutely ridiculous. But (there's always a but) at the same time, it's not like this is some new development in America either. Cutting edge technology, weapons development, sports and entertainment have always been the moneymakers in America. We reward innovation and genius, same as we always have.

Yet, others do so much less than him, and live in their McMansions, with their boats, and Gap clothes and drive their Lexus'....

Actually, lots of CEOs at major companies like the ones discussed in this article (the ones who bring in the big bucks) work just as many, if not more, hours than your husband does. They're just white collars, so that means they do it in fancy boardrooms and fancy cars and fancy hotels. Doesn't change the fact that it's irritating, tedious work. Also, other people like lawyers and doctors work their *asses* off in school to make the kind of money they make. It's not like it falls out of the sky.

And if you're talking about the rich heirs of inheritance, I don't know what to tell you, other than the fact that I was supposed to be a Rockefeller, but the stork got the wrong address....

Because we have to pay for Iraq to fix and rebuild their country.
Are they even thankful?
No. They blow us up left and right.
And WE are the ones paying most of it. The middle class. The people who REALLY work hard to get their 2 whole panels of white picket fence.

Er, yeah, but when you were talking about "helping people abroad" I didn't think you were referring to Bush's war...I don't think blowing the snot out of someone and destroying what little infrastructure and governmental system they have is a legitimate way to help them...

And I think the money we've spent over there is an outrageous misappropriation of funds...

But to be honest, you're being a bit like the ungrateful Iraqis you despise so much. You sit around on your computer with your car and your freedom and instead of being thankful that you were born in America instead of somewhere else, where you can have a house, a savings account, a car and a cell phone and still be able to complain about "scraping by"...you badmouth the government.

I disagree with the government, but there are personal choices involved too. My mother worked in the school cafeteria to help my father make ends meet when I was younger. She bagged groceries at night. (And she had a four year accounting degree!!) But it was an era of recession, so she did what she had to do. I was a latchkey kid for many years, but I understand my parents' sacrifice when I stand in their big $300,000 dollar house today.

That's why they're called bootstraps - you have to pull yourself up by them. Nobody is going to do it for you.

But when I see my friend's sister's home, who is on WELFARE for NO reason at all, except that HER mom was on welfare all her life, and there she is, in her nice apartment, with her central air, dishwasher and garbage disposal, with her kids in their Gap clothes, and her with her pretty nails, goverment cheese milk, eggs, peanut butter and orange juice, and let's not forget her FREE health care and her PERFECT teeth, and she never worked a day in her life....

Agree with you here again. The welfare system needs a significant reform.

I would LOVE a garbage disposal! I would LOVE a dishwasher! And I sure would LOVE central air, right now.
But do I have them?
NO.

What's stopping you? Those things aren't expensive, especially if you get them used. I know people who make less than your husband who have the same amount of kids as you do and have a garbage disposal and a dishwasher (and are NOT on welfare..)...You can get these things if you're willing to sacrifice or work for them. Obviously your priorities are elsewhere. You have a cell phone and a computer, but not a garbage disposal. Whose fault is that? Sell the computer and that's probably enough for a dishwasher right there.

I never complain to him. It's not his fault. So he didn't become a doctor. I never expected that from him.

You didn't expect him to become a doctor. Just bring home a doctor's wages, apparently. You want the rewards, just not the work.

I agree with your stance on the government, but I still think you're being a little unreasonable.

Guest's picture
The other Jen

"Actually you don't have to be that poor in my county to get subsidized housing. Median income for a family of 4 is $90k here so any family making under that can qualify for Section 8 and a variety of other government programs like subsidized insurance."

Really??? That would be strange since typically, you can't make more than 50% of the median income to qualify for section 8. See http://www.hud.gov/offices/pih/programs/hcv/about/fact_sheet.cfm#2

In Missouri, an uninsured family of 4 doesn't qualify for the state SCHIP program if the parents make more than about 31k per year (and that's the higher income but uninsured eligibility, not the regular eligibility).
http://www.mcplus.org/resource/20070418/fd98070c-c09f-1e1c-6b3ed0ac407d8...

At one time, I was a young single mother and have since made the very difficult transition from poverty to the middle class. That ground between eligible for benefits and comfortable enough on your own is TOUGH to navigate. I suspect that's where Jen's family falls. Talking about welfare queens with all the fancy appliances and families making 90k and receiving housing vouchers is not helpful, especially since those perceptions don't generally match up with reality.

Cheers,

The other Jen

Guest's picture
Guest

"others do so much less than him, and live in their McMansions, with their boats, and Gap clothes and drive their Lexus'"

"there she is, in her nice apartment, with her central air, dishwasher and garbage disposal, with her kids in their Gap clothes, and her with her pretty nails"

Stop trying to keep up with the Jones'. There is so much more to life than owning expensive clothes/cars/flats/appliances/whatever.

The best things in life really are free: love, friendship, life...

Guest's picture
wildgift

@xin - You could do that *if* you can get someone to rent the place to you with section 8 subsidy. (I'm assuming you're a 4-person household and your partner makes less than $45k a year.) The law says 75% of these vouchers must go to people making less than 30% of the median, or around $30k per year. I just don't see it happening.

Section 8 is definitely open to corruption. You just don't hear about it much, because the main beneficiaries are landlords. Because it's a subsidy that makes up the difference between around 30% of your income, and the "market rate" for similar units, there are people running sec 8 scams, where landlords rent to their relatives at inflated rents. This works out for immigrants, because they tend to make low wages, but their wealthier relative got into the country and bought a building. It's all legal, but it seems unfair.

The other scam I see is the ghetto duplex or triplex, which is an old house that's been cut up. Each apartment is rented out to a sec 8 tenant, at a rent way higher than any normal person would pay. I'm sure there's a kick-back in there, somewhere. I bet moving a gangster tenant in would bring in the know-how about running the scam correctly.

To reform this situation, they should base the subsidy on the cost to pay for the building and the repair costs, plus a guaranteed profit margin and a long-term contract to maintain the unit as a section 8 apartment. The "market rate" part causes the subsidy to get expensive when rents rise quickly due to gentrification and speculation.

Linsey Knerl's picture

I'll jump in to say that I enjoyed reading Xin's article.  I can see both sides -- it's frustrating at many levels of society.  I know some people choose  differently than others based on what they value at that moment in life, and it really is a personal choice.  That being said, I don't know anyone around here who gets government assistance and it "pays" for their nails.  Sure there are some who abuse the system, but they are usually gaming more than just our government....   they are usually avoiding all kinds of societal debt, skipping out on bills, and maybe have some "investors" in their lifestyles.  An ADC check and some food stamps alone won't buy some of the things mentioned in this article. 

We also want to understand that everything is not always what it seems.  I have gotten some really nice GAP clothing at garage sales, I have a friend in beauty school who can give me a $90 cut and color for free, and I work hard from home between the hours of 6-10am, 2-3 pm, and 9-11 pm (which appears to those around me like I don't have a "real" job.)  Most important to me is that I'm good with my money and that I treat others well.... I wouldn't want anyone to judge me if one day I decided to buy something nice that I worked hard for (be it a Lexus, a cruise, etc).  It's my business. 

Guest's picture
Natasha

Jen,

Back in the 50's most families didn't have central air or garbage disposals or dish washers or second cars. Those were all considered luxuries. Yes, it is unfair that some cheat is getting those things for sucking off the govt, but you shouldn't compare the situations because you really only have the power to fix your own situation.

Now I don't know what part of the country you live in, but down here in Texas 1400 a week is pretty nice and would buy a lot of things. I lived with my crippled momma on 600 a month welfare, and us three got by. Sure there were hard times, but it teaches you that money and material things don't amount to a hill of beans because in the end, you can't take it with you.

You need to re-evaluate your spending. I have a spreadsheet that tracks every penny coming in and going out. You should see where your biggest expenses are and try to cut back enough to where your husband doesn't need that second job. If you are up in the northeast or west, you might consider relocating to a cheaper state or a smaller house.

Guest's picture
Prasanna

I totally relate to what your ex-coworker suffered in India. I am an Indian and I work in Mumbai, India's financial capital. I was working with a PR firm earlier and that's where my life went for a toss. I worked 12-15 hours a day including weekends.

On my own cousin's wedding day (I was the maid of honour), I went to office in the morning to attend a stupid meeting! I even put on a lot of weight due to eating out a lot.

Finally after two years I gave up! I quit and now I have a life! I took up a job as a web editor and now I have an eight hour work schedule. I have enough time to meet friends, go to the gym and study. Also I took up some freelance writing assignments because my work at the moment is very relaxed and allows me a lot of free time. This is a decision I had to take to save myself from losing it completely and I'm happy I did it!

Guest's picture
Kellye

The freedom to make the best of what you have, or the courage to change it if it's not good enough.

Guest's picture
Kellye

The freedom to make the best of what you have, or the courage to change it if it's not good enough.

Guest's picture
Katie.

This is not a comment about working too much, as the subject started out, but that I agree that our government doesn't help those who need it in many cases. I am 19 years old, and between my boyfriend and I we bring home about 90k a year, and rising. So I am pretty well off for my age, I suppose, but a little over a year ago, I was 17, living on my own, with a baby, and a job at Arby's. I went to the welfare office to get daycare for my son. I had an offer for the job I currently have, all I needed was help for 6 months to finish high school so that I could qualify for that job. What did I get?? DENIED! I didn't want cash, or food, or even free rent, I just wanted a little help with caring for my son, so that I could pay my own bills, and finish school to never have to deal with them again. But they denied me over 45 dollars a month!!! Luckily, there were others around that helped me in my time of need when my government would not. And I did not get the same dirty looks, and judgements that I felt when I walked into that welfare office. How is it that those of us that aren't as lucky as I, with the support group I have, to ever pull themselves out of the welfare trap. Those that make 45 dollars too much per month to get help, and the consequence of that is paying more than their wages for the care of a child? If my school hadn't taken care of my son for FREE, where would I be today? Still stuck barely making it, yet receiving no help?!

Before complaining about those living off welfare, think about the choices they have? In order to get out of the welfare hole, they have to essentially make themselves poorer first. Not many people can leap out of that hole. I was lucky, but most have to crawl carefully out, and as soon as their feet touch level ground, they slip into the next hole, which is much deeper. Making essentially the same amount of money, but with expenses that double or triple.

Before you badmouth a group of people, it would be good to try to step back, and try to understand what their other options would be. How much they are actually struggling, like most of us, no matter what our income is, or who helps us.

/endrant.

Guest's picture

Your work or your life? In my opinion, you could always opt to have them both. It just takes good time management and proper delegation skills. Learn how to delegate your tasks if you feel that you are overly loaded already. Manage your time well so you have enough for your work and yourself. As for me, I find it useful to have someone to assist me if I feel my work starts to affect my life significantly already.