Many Americans forced to work on holidays don't necessarily have a choice, though they would unquestionably rather be surrounded by loved ones on a traditional day worth celebrating. We believe the fallacy that unrelenting GDP growth somehow means a successful economy. But at what cost? GDP is rising at an average rate of 3.24 percent per year, but its tear on our social fabric is loud enough to make you cringe.
In the presumed affluence of American society, a glaring issue is the ever-widening income distribution gap. Yet GDP is enshrined in our system as the sole indicator of economic health. The challenge to combat inequality is a lost cause as stores hang their sales signs come Thanksgiving day.
The 2012 holiday season retail sales totaled $578 billion — a hair larger than the 2012 GDP of Iran. But that comes at a cost for workers. Often they are not even paid time-and-a-half for their sacrifice, another value added to retailers. Bigger sales, longer hours, remaining open on holidays — this is a toxic recipe for revenue boost and GDP growth.
The cost is trickled down to the workers, doing the labor for no increased financial gain. The persistent inequity from the income distribution gap has become extreme, giving some no other option but to work on holidays. To assume that everyone working these holidays wants to be there is unfair to the minimum-wage workers who may have to be there for the income. And let's not forget the cost on social well-being, as they're relinquishing time spent with loved ones on the holiday.
The continued use of GDP as a sole indicator for economic health only exacerbates the associated problems. Economists continue to pander to this measurement — fully knowing its shortfalls — because for whatever unintelligible reason there is a lack of better indicators.
Let's not be so reliant on GDP as our sole metric for economic success. A pragmatic approach would be to expand the indicators of measuring prosperity. It is imperative to recognize the widening income distribution gap if any subsequent steps are to be taken. While we're at it, let's measure social welfare. Using GDP as a welfare proxy is an embarrassing substitute for simply creating an additional indicator that would account for this.
A rich dashboard of additional indicators alongside GDP would foster clearer recognition of trends and readjust how we view our economic health. While GDP booms in the holiday season from a push on consumerism, it only makes sense to admit that it comes at a cost to the social welfare of the workers. Implementing a basic policy solution to account for this is only fair, since it shows an acknowledgement for the lower and middle classes who make up the majority of our population.
Any hope for political response to the widening income distribution gap is squandered by signals of our apparent growing economic health. Yet GDP growth is only one indicator, purely of a market value of final goods and services produced by a country, and the distribution of income growth should be measured as another indicator. Otherwise, inequality will ceaselessly amplify.
The flaws of GDP's shortcomings will persist and subsequent burdens will continue to worsen. We lack only the political will to find better measurements. While we wait, many of us continue to work on the holidays.
Allison Carrier is a University of Vermont student who has family in New Hampshire.