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Posted by on Jul 10, 2015 in 2016 Elections, Featured | 15 comments

Dear Jeb: that soundbite was not a gaffe

Jeb Bush Twitter ProfileSometimes you can’t avoid the 2016 presidential candidate blather.

On Wednesday, the New Hampshire Union Leader published highlights of an interview with Jeb Bush.

The soundbite that was quickly heard around the world was this:

“… people should work longer hours …”

Bush immediately back-pedaled, insisting that he meant we need fewer people working part-time.

But that is not the context of his comment:

jeb bush quote

Here’s that sentence in full:

“It means that people need to work longer hours and through their productivity gain more income for their families (emphasis added).”

American workers already put in a bunch of hours

As Gallup reported last year, half of all full-time workers report working more than 40 hours a week; 2-out-of 5 work more than 50 hours a week. (And remember, salaried workers do not get overtime.)

Not only do Americans work more than our counterparts abroad, this is the new norm:


Gallup data suggest working more than 40 hours a week is the new norm.

The average? 47 hours per week. That’s almost like working eight days in a seven-day period. Add in commute time and the US workday is a nightmare for many.

Part-time in the US is defined as working less than 35 hours a week. Under the Affordable Care Act, that threshold drops to 30 hours a week.

I’m pretty sure no one in their right mind would argue that German employees (think BMW, Mercedes) are slackards. But in 2014, the average German worked 1,371 hours a year compared to 1,789 for an American. Americans worked 30% more hours a year than Germans.

“The economic engine of the EU, Germany single-handedly saved the Eurozone from collapse in 2012. At the same time, German workers enjoy unparalleled worker protections and shorter working hours than most of their global counterparts. How can a country that works an average of 35 hours per week (with an average 24 paid vacation days to boot) maintain such a high level of productivity?”

I don’t think America’s economic “problem” is number of hours worked by individual employees.

A gaffe is a mistake

If a gaffe means unintentionally saying something that is embarrassing, why am I refusing to accept this characterization? Because gaffes are blurted comments, one-liners, contextually solo. Like mis-remembering someone’s name.

Re-read that paragraph and, with a straight face, explain how this could have been an unintentional statement.

“My aspirations for the country, and I believe we can achieve it, is for 4 percent growth as far as the eye can see,” Bush said. “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 are going to get out of this rut that we’re in.”

Can’t do it. (Oh, and if it was totally ad-libbed, then he needs to fire his handlers.)

A gaff is not a mischaracterization

In his retraction, Bush said this:

Bush told reporters at a campaign event here that when he said “people need to work longer hours” to grow the economy, he was referring to part-time workers getting more hours — not full-time employees working longer — and he blasted Obamacare for companies scaling back to 30-hour-a-week schedules.

But that’s not true. He alluded to part-time workers in the prior sentence:

“Workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows.”

It’s true that since 2007 unemployment is up for all categories of workers regardless of education.


State of Working America, June 2015

As a reminder, the Great Recession (post-2007) resulted from willful greed and self-imposed Wall Street blinders. And none of those guys have gone to jail. In fact, the banks are bigger today than they were then.

Is the persistent unemployment because these folks don’t want to work? Doubtful.

The audience for that one-liner is employers, not employees. And maybe public policymakers. But not employees.

If Bush really meant — by this entire paragraph — that we need to get the underemployed and unemployed into full-time jobs, he picked a truly round-about way to state the obvious.

Oh, and that jab at the Affordable Care Act. Without merit; the (temporary) shift in under 35/over 35 hours a week happened in 2008 as part of the Great Recession. But you knew that.

Part time - full time

Part time and full time employement from Advisor Perspectives

Productivity: a dog whistle

There’s more fodder here, fodder that has fallen to the wayside given the powerful emotional punch of “work longer hours.”

First, the link between productivity and bringing home more for the family was decoupled a long time ago. In 1975.

worker productivity

Via Think Progress

Moreover, productivity is a dog whistle for Wall Street and corporate bean-counters. That’s because it’s connotatively linked to “cost savings” and “profits”, benefits that accrue not to employees but CEOs, some senior level managers and stockholders.

Furthermore, by implying that workers are not sufficiently productive, Bush is peddling a myth. From the International Business Times, 2013:

“EPI labor economists looked at wage trends in all income levels and found that Americans earning at or below 60 percent of the distribution of wages in the U.S. — a vast majority of working Americans — saw no gains in their wages between 2000 and 2012. At the same time their productivity increased nearly 25 percent (emphasis added).”

Bush provided no hints of how he would cajole Wall Street into turning the un-and under-employed into the gainfully employed. And no, Uber and AirBnB are not the answer.

So what to make of this tempest? A manufactured brohaha for headlines, wily like a fox? Or an out-of-touch Republican?

Maybe a little of both.

It’s going to be a painful journey to November 2016.

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  • shannonlee

    or maybe upper management needs to manage better?

    • StockboyLA

      Actually if upper management is getting more out of their employees for less then it seems that they are managing just fine. I guess it depends on the values of upper management.

      • shannonlee

        well, considering the article is about working more hours, I will assume that getting more out of their employees = more hours.

        There is a great joke European managers like to tell about American managers, very loosely … it involves a canoe race that the americans lose to the europeans… the american upper managers decide to make middle management adjustments to their canoe team and show up to the next race with only one rower and 7 managers motivating the one rower.

        strategic management is far more important than getting 2 extra hours out of your already overworked employees. Americans need to understand that smart hours are better than long hours, which is why I get 30 days vacation plus sick and holidays… and still manage to get my work done and be pretty successful.

      • “Getting more for less” — probably should be the American motto. It certainly explains both the chart from 1975 and Walmart.

        Should we thank Jeb Bush for reminding us that this phenomena (productivity gains go to managers and CEOs and stockholders, not employees) is OLD?

  • Slamfu

    Even if we were to be charitable and give Bush credit for having meant part time workers, that doesn’t really change how messed up his analysis of the situation is. Time and again these guys show they just don’t grasp the problem, how can they be expected to come up with a solution when they don’t even get the problem? They can’t. It is why I am so much against Republicans these days. They clearly don’t understand what is going on or why we are where we are and yet they just keep trying to ram these awful policy “solutions” down our throats. I may not know what is definitely going to work, but I can certainly spot the crap that has zero chance of helping. And that seems to be all Republicans have been peddling for years now.

  • JSpencer

    Jeb suffers from the same malady that infects so many other politicians on that side of the spectrum, namely disconnectedness from everyday Americans. The minimum wage would be just one example among many. There seems to be a general lack of realization about how morale can effect productivity. Morale increases when employees feel valued and decreases when they have no sense of dignity. Without morale, there is little incentive to do any more than necessary.

    • dduck12

      On the other “side of the “spectrum” we have Queen Hillary who definitely is connected to everyday Americans. NOT.

      • JSpencer

        Agreed. Many democrats have the same problem.

  • dduck12

    I get it. Blast Jebya and give HC a hall pass when it comes to her lying in her last interview with a reporter. Puhleez, work longer hours, say 63 minutes on partisan mountain out of mole hill remarks, and damn the torpedoes sift every Jebya remark and make them look as bad as possible you will definitely please the choir. 🙂

    • Slamfu

      You really think Clinton gets a hall pass around here? Not saying that GOP candidates get perfect parity, but there seem to be about 1-2 articles a day here beating up on Clinton over something or other.

      • dduck12

        Interpreting remarks and putting the maximum negative spin on their meaning while extrapolating these remarks to endless negative avenues is certainly a political art. And this article does it well.
        However, your math is correct, Around these here parts, we have a tireless Clinton basher for sure. The things he accuses HC of are a bit more serious, than a JB trying to sound reasonable all the time when he is out on the press firing range and Hillary, still smarting from bullets whizzing over head in Bosnia and her near brush with bankruptcy, is safe in her bunker.

  • KP

    It is a shame that America has an all-time low labor force participation rate.

    So, more work (any hours for unemployed) … or more hours for more part time employed _please_.

    • shannonlee

      I think that phrase would be…
      get more Americans working…
      work more hours

      Although I think the first phrase would cause a serious reduction in Jeb’s PAC money.

      You know, I am starting to wonder if Jeb has Joe Biden’s foot in mouth syndrome. He has been caught saying politically stupid comments more than once.

      • KP


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