We Are More Than the Work We Produce
an article by Lora Kwon
Dear Asian Youth,
Throughout the 2020 presidential election, candidate Andrew Yang has challenged Americans to consider whether the market is undervaluing human beings. According to Yang, “We need to stop confusing human value with economic value. We don’t exist to serve the market. The market exists to serve us.”
The United State’s current form of capitalism prioritizes profit over humanity. Americans follow the “rise and grind” lifestyle despite the exhaustive consequences, and many idolize the same CEOs and entrepreneurs who hoard more money than can be spent by taking advantage of workers. Most recently, Vox has reported that over fifty Amazon warehouse workers at Staten Island were infected with COVID-19. Workers reported dirty air filters, ill colleagues being allowed to work, and workers standing close together. Furthermore, many have complained about the lack of pay and benefits provided to workers during the pandemic. Since March, Amazon workers have already organized two petitions with more than 6,000 signatures and have held at least eight protests. When met with various complaints, the company fired at least six employees involved in these protests and reprimanded six others.
Yang pointed out, capitalism has forced people to prioritize money over all morality and ethics. All in all, the health of so many workers are risked to profit corporations, and just like how these Amazon workers were fired upon complaint, many are made to feel replaceable. The only choice for Americans is to work harder throughout these troubling conditions.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, the difference between pay and productivity became increasingly problematic after the year 1979. Data surrounding the cumulative percent change since 1948, shows that from 1979-2018, productivity increased 69.3%, while hourly pay only increased 11.6%, meaning that productivity has grown nearly six times as much as pay. These alarming statistics show that“...although Americans are working more productively than ever, the fruits of their labors have primarily accrued to those at the top and to corporate profits, especially in recent years.”
Even though hard work is not creating the compensation that laborers deserve, we not only give into these ridiculous demands for productivity, but we romanticize it through hustle culture. In a system that clearly values profit over all else, health and well-being are not factors that we consider important. This is particularly evident in the glamorous dream of being an entrepreneur, that ignores the drawbacks of such a rigorous and exhausting lifestyle. One study by Dr. Michael Freeman, a clinical professor at UCSF found that 49% of the sampled entrepreneurs reported suffering from a mental health condition. Among these conditions, depression was the most common. The study cited that about 30% of the sampled entrepreneurs reported issues with depression (72% of which did not have families with pre-existing mental conditions), which as Business Insider points out, is significantly greater than the total 7% of the US population that report depression. The fear of failure, crushing economic risks, and constant responsibilities that entrepreneurs have to deal with are masked by the idea that hard work will get anyone to the top.
Many are so willing to push their mental, emotional, and physical limitations to reach success, not necessarily out of economic necessity (although this is indeed the case for many underprivileged Americans) but because of the mindset that doing something purely for fun is a waste of time. Science Daily posted a survey that reported between 66% and 82% of workers do not always take their breaks out of guilt. Another study by the New York Post shared that about six in ten workers reported feeling guilty taking breaks during work hours.
Academically competitive students are also victims of this toxic mentality. The Pew Research Center cites that anxiety and depression are on the rise in the United States. Most notably, 61% of teens claim that they feel a lot of pressure to get good grades. This can likely be attributed to the pressure to get into a good college. The demand for higher education has risen greatly, and NBC News even states that undergraduate enrollment in the United States has doubled from 1970 to 2009 alone. In turn, acceptance rates are constantly dropping. For example, Columbia University’s acceptance rate went from 65% in 1988 to 7% in 2014. This doesn’t even account for extracurricular activities and students that maintain jobs throughout their education. As a result of this competitiveness, students are no longer encouraged to pursue hobbies and interests if they do not add value to college applications. Students are also often victims of burnout.
This feeling of obligation to working is a product of capitalism. I think more people, myself included, need to realize that a healthy work-life balance is significantly more admirable than being a workaholic. Of course, maintaining such a mindset requires a level of socioeconomic privilege, considering that certain companies force laborers to work incredibly hard for not nearly enough compensation. However, perhaps an understanding of the toxicity of hustle culture is the first step in feeling less guilty about prioritizing health over productivity. And, I hope that as more people critique the lack of morality within capitalism, that we begin to work towards a society where human value is prioritized over all else.
Cover Photo Source: NBC News