The 35-Hour Work Week: Remedy for Unemployment

Reduce the standard working hours per week from 40 to 35.

Each week, the 310 million people of the United States produce, by their labor, a quantity of goods and services that more or less suffices to satisfy the wants and needs of
themselves. They apportion the burden of labor unequally to half of them, about 160 million people, 100 million working “full time”. The average number of hours of work per day, for a person who works on a weekday, is about eight. They work about 40 hours per week.

Among people who work, the distribution isn’t uniform. In 2007, about 77% worked 40 hours or more per week and 5% worked less than 25 hours per week.

The people who would work, but can’t find a job are about 10%, or 15 million people, of the labor force according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As a first-order calculation, if the people worked 7 hours per day, instead of 8, then they would produce 7/8 as much stuff as they now do. If they also hire an additional person for each 7 persons now working, they would make up the difference in production, and they would employ most of the 15 million now seeking work.

If you have a car with a leaking engine, you might keep it going a few more miles by adding oil. However, this won’t fix the problem. To fix it, you must make structural changes. Similarly, the govt stimulus program will save some people from destitution, but it won't fix the economic troubles of the United States. The society, led by the govt, must seek structural changes to reduce income inequities, spread income more evenly, and thereby fix the economy.

Reducing work to 35 or fewer hours per week per worker is one structural change that tends to spread income more evenly among the population. In future posts, I will discuss related topics. I will address ways to accomplish the change in working hours and the concerns of the constituency of the 40-hour week. I will review the Californian and French experiences with revised working hours. And I will discuss other structural changes to fix the United States economy.

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