Whether you’re working in a warehouse or piano factory, processing insurance claims, or taking care of patients, the use of worker productivity monitoring continues to expand. Workplaces where jobs are monitored and measured—and workers required to meet certain performance metrics—pose a particular set of challenges for stewards. Most historians recognize Fredrick Winslow Taylor and his 1911 book The Principles of Scientific Management as the genesis of these schemes. Taylor’s technology was basic by today’s standards: clipboards and stopwatches. Frank and Lillian Gilbreth (of Cheaper by the Dozen fame) expanded on this by using frame-by-frame film study of workers performing tasks with a specially calibrated “microchronometer,” documenting worker micro-motions and the time they took.
"Quiet quitting"—an allegedly new trend characterized by workers performing only their required job duties and no more—has been getting a lot of attention in recent weeks, but the defining trend of the past 40 years of U.S. economic history is "quiet fleecing," and we should be talking much more about it. That's the argument put forth Friday by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a progressive think tank with a long track record of popularizing research on wage suppression and runaway inequality. "Everyone's obsessed with a post-pandemic phenomenon called 'quiet quitting,'" EPI wrote in an email. "It's basically defined as workers just doing the basic requirements of their jobs and not going 'above and beyond.'"
The growth of inequalities is the central driver of the widening gap between the hourly compensation of a typical (median) worker and productivity—the income generated per hour of work—in recent decades. Specifically, this growing divergence has been driven by the growth of two distinct dimensions of inequality: the surge of compensation received by the top 10%—particularly the top 1.0% and top 0.1%—and the erosion of labor’s share of income and the corresponding growth of capital’s share. This post documents these trends by presenting an updated account of the U.S. productivity-pay divergence originally analyzed in both Mishel and Gee 2012 and Bivens and Mishel 2015. The key metric, as explained below, is the lag between the growth of net productivity (taking into account depreciation and evaluated using consumer prices) and hourly compensation (wages and benefits) of a typical or median worker.