If Jeb Bush wants workers to actually be more productive, he should back paid leave and guaranteed vacation

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In the 2016 presidential race, Instagram is the place where the news of the day gets a second life. This was the case earlier this week when Marco Rubio accused Hillary Clinton of being a time traveler, and it's happened again in the wake of Jeb Bush's comments about Americans needing to work longer hours.


In conversation with the editorial board of the New Hampshire Union Leader on Wednesday, Bush said that Americans need to work longer hours and be more productive.

“My aspiration for the country—and I believe we can achieve it—is 4 percent growth as far as the eye can see,” the Republican presidential candidate 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’re going to get out of this rut that we’re in.”


Thursday night, Bush’s campaign Instagram account both doubled down and tried to redirect with a video graphic about work hours:

Bush is right that many part-time workers are looking for full-time jobs—around 6.5 million Americans are working part-time because they can’t find full-time work. But his suggestion that Americans should work longer hours leaves out one important detail: workers don’t generally make their own hours. So for, say, a Wal-Mart employee struggling with part-time hours and a lack of reliable scheduling, the problem is for her boss—not her—to address.

But there’s something else missing from the current back and forth over Bush’s comments: paid leave and vacation time keep workers at their jobs longer and boost productivity. But Bush doesn’t support policies that would expand paid leave for all workers.


According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Americans work longer hours than most employees in similarly wealthy nations, often without much to show for it. This is particularly true for workers earning the minimum wage. Marathon shifts may help people, per Bush, “gain more income for their families," but often not enough to lift them out of poverty. And more than 25 percent of low-wage and low-income workers are single mothers, but at the current minimum wage, working full-time translates to a salary of $14,500 each year. That’s $4,000 less than the poverty level for a mother of two.

Now here’s where paid leave comes into the equation, particularly for working mothers: according to research from the National Bureau of Economic Research, women who took leave under California’s paid family leave policy and went back to work increased their hours by an estimated six to nine percent, and saw a similar bump in their wages.


A report out of Rutgers University on the impact of New Jersey’s paid leave law found that the policy has other positive effects on women’s participation in the labor force. According to that research, women who took paid leave were more likely to be working 9 to 12 months after their child’s birth than women who didn’t take any leave. Paid leave also correlated to an increase in wages for working mothers. The study found that women who took 30 or more days of leave were 54 percent more likely to report a wage increase in the year after their child’s birth.

The Rutgers report concluded that the policy is good for workers and their bosses:

Paid family leave may strengthen women’s workforce attachment and workforce stability by allowing women to retain employment both before and after a birth, particularly employment with the same employer and at the same, or better, wage. This benefits the woman, her family, and–by reducing turnover costs–her employer.


Plain old vacation time boosts productivity, too. As Bryce Covert reported last year over at the New Republic, there are reams of data showing a correlation between leisure time and productivity during work hours:

A study from Ernst & Young found that every ten hours of vacation time taken by an employee boosted her year-end performance rating by 8 percent and lowered turnover. Former NASA scientists found that people who take vacations experience an 82 percent increase in job performance upon their return, with longer vacations making more of an impact than short ones. Putting in too many hours, on the other hand, does the opposite. More than 60 hours a week will create a small productivity flurry at first, but it’ll start to decline again after three or four weeks. Other studies have found the same initial burst followed, but a worse decline.


But Bush is against extending paid leave to all worker: In 2000, while he was still governor of Florida, his office said that paid leave should be left to businesses and that any kind of state-subsidized program would be “a very expensive proposition.” (He was wrong about that, too: the states that have already implemented paid leave policies have found them to be cost neutral.)

There’s also a whole other story to be told about how more hours does not equal more productivity—and how men overwhelmingly benefit and working mothers overwhelmingly lose out when a system rewards hours worked regardless of actual productivity—but that’s for another day.


The bottom line is that Bush is hitting the wrong target when he talks about part-time workers. If he wants more full-time labor force participation, he should be looking at employers who skirt health insurance and other earned benefits by keeping workers part-time. And his opposition to paid leave is actually standing in the way of workers who want to make better use of their time on the clock. But, you know, the piano music playing in his Instagram account was kind of soothing, so at least he has that going for him.

Bush's campaign did not respond to Fusion's request for comment.

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