Get back to work!

Oh, looky here… A writer at Fortune magazine has some fun with numbers and concludes that Americans need to work harder.  That may be true, but the writer needs to work harder to maintain his credibility.

The surprising report of our relative sloth arrives in new research from the UN's International Labor Organization, which looks at working hours around the world. When it comes to what we might call hard work, meaning the proportion of workers who put in more than 48 hours a week, America is near the bottom of the heap. About 18% of our employed people work that much.

That's a higher proportion than in a few other developed countries like Norway, the Netherlands, and even Japan. But it's actually lower than in Switzerland and Britain, and way lower than in developing countries like Mexico and Thailand. It's drastically lower than in what may be the world's two hardest-working countries, South Korea and Peru, where the proportions are about 50%.

How one can look at the proportion of people putting in more than 48 hours a week and draw the broad conclusion that Americans in general are slackers is beyond me.  How about average number of hours worked, or some broader figure, hmmm?  But no, it's time to move on to yet another interesting but not altogether relevant statistic:

We have increased our leisure time enormously over the past 40 years — so much so that it "corresponds roughly to an additional five to ten weeks of vacation a year," says a study by Mark Aguiar of the Boston Fed and Erik Hurst of the University of Chicago business school, who conducted the study.

People with jobs are working fewer hours. Compounding the effect, fewer of us work at all, with growing numbers of people spending more time in retirement.

Of course, there's more to work than what we do on the job; there's also the work we do at home, and that too has fallen drastically. (It has fallen on average; men are actually doing a bit more work at home than they used to, but women are doing much less.)

Put it all together, and the researchers figure we're getting about 117 hours of leisure per week (including sleep), vs. 110 hours in 1965. That's more than 360 additional idle hours per year. We are a couch-potato nation.

The key sentence there is "People with jobs are working fewer hours."  40 years ago, fewer women had jobs.  Many of the women in the workforce today work part-time, trying to take care of the kids but pay also pay the household bills that, 40 years ago, could be covered by just one income.

I'm not disputing that Americans need to work harder if they have any hope of competing with people in Asia willing to work longer hours for less pay.  But it does no good to support the case with irrelevant statisics.