The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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July 11, 2013

Why are poor people more upbeat about working?

WASHINGTON — A new research method using a smartphone app reveals that people are often stressed out and miserable at work, according to The Wall Street Journal. This doesn't exactly shock me. After all, there's a reason people get paid salaries to work. But I wish the coverage had dwelled longer on this point from the very last paragraph in the Journal article:            

             

               Respondents with very low incomes tended to have a much less negative reaction to work. That may be, Mr. Bryson said, because their options outside work "are not very nice. . . . In that sense, they may as well be working."      

               

I suppose it's true that very poor people have less attractive leisure options than middle-class people. But at the same time, very low wages seem to me to be correlated with jobs that are unpleasant in other ways. In the United States, at least, the labor force participation rate is correlated with education - which I'd always taken to be a reflection of the superior labor market options available to people who qualify for higher-paid, higher-status jobs. One possibility that comes to find is that this is simply a spurious result generated by some kind of flawed research method. But if not, it deserves more investigation.

               

 Yglesias, author of "The Rent Is Too Damn High," is Slate's business and economics correspondent.

 

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