Labor to Young Americans: Work Less, Achieve Less

Terence P. Jeffrey | October 5, 2016 | 5:03am EDT
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Labor Secretary Thomas Perez is a former civil rights lawyer. (AP File Photo)

A 25-year-old woman three years out of college earns a modest, but livable, salary in a professional position where she oversees the work of several other young people.

She works eight-to-ten hours every weekday — then goes home and takes a three-mile walk.

When she is walking, she sometimes thinks about her job and how she can make those she supervises more productive.

One night on her walk, she has a brilliant idea, which she starts implementing at work the next day. This idea makes the jobs of her subordinates easier, more enjoyable and more productive. It makes the family-owned business she works for more profitable.

It puts her on a faster track to career advancement and a higher salary.

It is a win-win-win situation — in a free and capitalist nation.

It is what America is all about.

So, when this young woman came up with that great idea about her job on a three-mile walk after a 10-hour workday was she working or having private time?

The truth is it is nobody's business but her own — because she was pursuing the American Dream.

Yet regulators at the U.S. Department of Labor think it is their business to monitor and control how many hours Americans like this work.

On Dec. 1, a new federal regulation takes effect that forces employers to pay overtime to a salaried employee who works more than 40 hours in a week unless that employee already earns a salary of at least $913 per week (or $47,476 per year).

This alters an existing regulation that puts the minimum salary threshold for salaried workers who must be paid overtime at $23,660 per year.

The new regulation also includes a provision that every three years will automatically increase the minimum salary employers must pay salaried workers to avoid paying them overtime. In 2020, the regulation estimates, it will rise to $51,168.

The Department of Labor published an analysis that indicates that the new regulation will initially expand the number of salaried workers eligible for mandatory overtime pay by 4.2 million.

Sixty-one percent of these 4.2 million workers are 44 years of age or younger, according to the analysis. Fifty-three percent have a college degree or an advanced degree.

This regulation means that if an employer hires a 22-year-old college graduate and starts paying her a salary of $38,000 per year the day she receives her diploma, the employer will have to pay that 22-year-old salaried worker overtime pay whenever she works more than 40 hours in a week.

A hard-working, ambitious young person who is excited about her job, sees great potential in it, wants to do it to the best of their ability, and sees an opportunity to have significant positive impact on her co-workers, her employer, her community and perhaps even her country, is ordinarily a great asset to the organization that hires her.

This is the person who understands that excelling at an entry-level job is the first step on the path to excelling in any profession.

This is the person driven to work more hours precisely because she can achieve more and be more effective at her job by dedicating more time to it. She is willing to make the sacrifice because she loves what she does and is looking to advance in her profession, not stay in place.

But the Department of Labor's new regulation could turn the most focused and ambitious workers into a financial liability. Their commitment to hard work, to putting in the hours necessary to do the job well, could price them out of the market for some employers — and reduce the overall number of jobs available.

"By increasing the number of workers who are eligible for overtime when they work more than 40 hours in a week, employers will have a choice," the Department of Labor said in a summary of the rule. "They can either increase their employers' salaries to at least the new salary threshold, pay workers the overtime premium for extra hours, or limit their work to 40 hours in a week."

The regulators made clear that their aim was to reduce the amount of work salaried workers do.

"Under this rule, employers will have a renewed monetary incentive to support work-life balance," said the summary. "Many workers will put in fewer hours without seeing a reduction in pay, giving them more time to spend with their families and in their personal pursuits."

The Labor Department's message to young hard-working Americans is: Work less, and achieve less.

Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor-in-chief of


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