Whatever Happened to Overtime

The Clock art installationRemember overtime? I do! My first job out of college, at the talent agency with revolving doors and suicide-proof windows, overtime was one of the very few redeeming features: yes, everyone worked like a camel miserably trudging through a desert without stopping to drink, but at least we got paid time-and-a-half for evenings. Since then, no job I’ve had has offered overtime, and it never occurred to me to wonder whether that was a trend. Turns out, according to Politico, it is a trend: OT is going the way of the dodo. And it’s murder on the middle class.

Your parents got a lot of [overtime pay], and you don’t. And it turns out that fair overtime standards are to the middle class what the minimum wage is to low-income workers: not everything, but an indispensable labor protection that is absolutely essential to creating a broad and thriving middle class. In 1975, more than 65 percent of salaried American workers earned time-and-a-half pay for every hour worked over 40 hours a week. Not because capitalists back then were more generous, but because it was the law. It still is the law, except that the value of the threshold for overtime pay—the salary level at which employers are required to pay overtime—has been allowed to erode to less than the poverty line for a family of four today. Only workers earning an annual income of under $23,660 qualify for mandatory overtime. You know many people like that? Probably not. By 2013, just 11 percent of salaried workers qualified for overtime pay, according to a report published by the Economic Policy Institute. And so business owners like me have been able to make the other 89 percent of you work unlimited overtime hours for no additional pay at all.

At Business Insider, our pal Shane Ferro muses that when she got it, “overtime added 13.73% to my salary … I didn’t rely on it, but it allowed me to have a little bit of cushion in my life. And I put a lot of that money back into the economy.” ME TOO. That first year, I survived on the salary; I lived on the overtime.



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