Thursday, May 5, 2011

Relax, its Cinco de Mayo!

It’s a great time of year; the weather is finally starting to cooperate.   What better way to end a long day than being able to sit outside and enjoy a nice cool drink.  Wouldn’t it be great if we had a really good excuse to sit around and do nothing all day, like they do in Spain with their long lunch siestas?  If we could actually live by the epic mantra of Bruno Mars’ “The Lazy Song?”  Look no further, today is Cinco de Mayo, a fantastic (U.S.-borrowed-from-Mexico-as-an-excuse-to-do-nothing) holiday where we can sit back, have a beer (or Margarita for you more sophisticated types) and do what we love doing best – nothing.
Sitting around and doing nothing may be fun, but it is unfortunately not sustainable for long periods of time (even unemployment runs out eventually, nice try).  Contrary to our wildest dreams (or to what people who appear on Judge Judy may believe), money does not grow on trees.   We have to make a living to support ourselves (at the very least, buy drinks to be lazy comfortably) and keep our communities successfully functioning.  If we didn’t work (i.e., produce goods or provide services that generate value) our country would cease to function.  We wouldn’t have any money to buy necessities or provide for our families (or to pay for your unemployment checks).  Our quality of living would decline dramatically (that is a bad thing).
So, while being lazy isn’t great for our wallets, sometimes we just can’t help it.  Just how lazy are we?  Not very, according to one measure.  Nationally, the average worker is generating more value in their job over time (maybe we are worried for our jobs and want to be invaluable, or maybe there is a new technology that lets us do more than we used to in a workday), a trend that has continued for every quarter (3 month period) on a year over year basis for the last 2 years.  According to data released today, we were 1.3% more “productive” in the first 3 months of this year compared to the same time last year, and 1.6% more “productive” than in the last 3 months of 2010.  “Productivity” measures how much value (“output”) people generate for every hour worked. 
You may interpret this to be another excuse to be lazy – after all we are creating more value working the same number of hours compared to last year so why not work a little less and call it even.  Actually we already have to some extent.  The rate at which we are increasing our productivity is less this year than last year – meaning our productivity in the first 3 months of 2010 was 7% higher in 2010 than in 2009, compared to 1.3% higher in the first 3 months of 2011 over 2010.  Plus there are real benefits to being a more efficient worker.  Generating more value with the same resources keeps costs (and prices) down and it helps us stay competitive with the rest of the world – the more value we create the better off we are.  Just look at what happened to Spain (in case you missed it, they aren’t doing so well).    Now they are doing away with the siesta to require a full work day (sad, I know). 
In other words, we’ve worked hard and we’ve earned that beer (or margarita) we plan to sit outside and enjoy this evening.  But let’s be sure to keep up the good work.  Feliz Cinco de Mayo! 
(Bureau of Labor Statistics)

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