Why the 40-hour workweek is too long
Economists and scientists predicted shorter hours for US laborers nearly a century ago. Why hasn't it happened?
CNNMoney's ongoing series on the "New American Workplace" took a look at the 40-hour workweek, adopted shortly after the Great Depression, and how employers have toyed with it during the economic crisis. The key finding is that lots of workers have been forced to either shorten their workweeks or approach them differently as employers cut back.
At the height of the recession, Utah tried cramming 40-hour workweeks for its government employees into four 10-hour days in order to save on operating costs and avoid layoffs. The government was able to cut costs, while the employees got an extra day off without having to take a hit to their paychecks. But even those 40-hour workweeks fall well short of the ideal.
"Cutting hours of work can have positive effects on employment levels during a severe economic downturn," the International Labour Organization noted in a report last month.
Shortened hours can be used to create jobs, the ILO said, as fewer hours for one worker mean more work for another. Since the economic crisis, lots of workers have been forced to shorten their workweek as their employers cut back. Still, that falls well short of what economic thinkers and social scientists were predicting less than a century ago.
In 1930, renowned economist John Maynard Keynes predicted technological advancements would mean we would all eventually work just 15 hours a week. That same year, evolutionary biologist Julian Huxley predicted the two-day workweek. As recently as 1965, a Senate subcommittee predicted we would be working 14 hours a week by the year 2000, with at least seven weeks of vacation time.
The reality? The U.S. can't even mandate vacation time, never mind providing seven weeks of it. Benjamin Hunnicutt, a historian at the University of Iowa, calls the shorter workweek the "forgotten American dream."
"New marketing techniques of corporate America were able to convince us to buy things we had never seen before and had never needed before," he said. "Work was valorized -- elevated to the center of life more so than it ever had been before, and leisure was demoted and trivialized."
Meanwhile, the average German worker puts in 394 hours less than an American each year -- or nearly 10 fewer weeks. Germany is way smaller than the United States in area, population and resources, but still manages to be the fourth largest economy and third largest exporter in the world. Dutch workers, meanwhile, are on par with American workers in terms of productivity per hour, but pay higher taxes and earn less than Americans. On average, however, they work roughly 11 weeks less than their American counterparts each year, have access to government-funded health care, pay little or nothing for a college education and have far more leisure time than the average American.
While Americans settle for two weeks of vacation or none at all, their forbears and European neighbors continue to shake their heads in bewilderment at a workforce that puts in so much time for so little.
Now... I have to stay 9? 9.5? 10 hours? Regardless of whether I get my work done or not? Well... It's called burn out people. I can't work that hard for that long. So I become less efficient. And because it eats into my 'stress free' time at home, I become even more less efficient. More unhappy which = you guessed it! Less efficiency.
So when are the employers going to stop, look around, and realize slave driving only gets them employees who do JUST enough not to get fired? Because people like me, who do work hard and enjoy working hard, get burnt out and our potential is NOT reached.
We're nuts for working this hard. We have no time with our families. Both parents have to work to make ends meet. It's insane. It's big business/corporate America screwing us again. Working us to death. Oh and you know what you get when you're done working for them? Nothing. Most Americans die broke.
We should be down to a 32 hours work week at the very least. We should have 6-7 weeks of vacation time as well. We need to push for these rules/laws to be put in place now. If we cut the work week down to 32 hours guess what? The company will have to hire more people.
OMG more people will have jobs! More time with their families. OMG OMG it will be terrible!!!!!
40 hours a week would be a dream for us! My husband puts in 50 to 55 hours a week with no end in sight. The 2 weeks of vacation he does get has to be saved for emergencies and sick leave. With 2 sets of elderly parents to care for and me (his wife) being disabled (I am not receiving any government help), My husband is exhausted all the time.
And Now they want everyone to put off retirement until 68 or 70 or 75. We will be lucky if he is able to make it to 62.
This is automotive/truck/oilfield/irrigation/farm equipment parts and repair business....a small business owned by one family where my husband has been employed since 1975. The small businesses are forced to cut back because they are squeezed from all sides...mostly the government...less people have to do more work. It is an impossible to hold up under these circumstances.
There's definitely a case that we don't need to work more than a few hours a day on average. After all with productivity gains in agriculture and construction, how many manhours are needed to meet our true needs of food, water, and shelter? Even today if you were really only looking to meet these basic needs as cost efficiently as possible, would you need to work more than a few hours of minimum wage?
Our standard of living has evolved to include many wants like cable, computers, cars, etc. Its all the extras that keep us slaving away...
If we quit being the world cop and quit giving money to countries that want to cut off our heads and spit down our neck maybe we could enjoy more free time and actually have our tax dollars given back to the taxpayers in the form of affordable health care and some of the "luxuries" some of the European countries enjoy. When was the last time the news reported that Denmark, or any European country for that matter, sent an army into some foreign country to do battle.
Do you support national Republicans attempts to end/repeal the 40 hour workweek and overtime pay protection?
Repubs were just defeated in another attempt to repeal overtime pay in May, 2013.
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