The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 set maximum hours at 40 per week. Since then, the legal standard has remained unchanged and 40 hours has become the social and cultural norm. Supposedly, as we became more prosperous, we would choose to work fewer hours. However, instead we have bigger houses, fancier cars, and all kinds of electronic devices. We buy more stuff but then don’t have the time to enjoy it.
It would seem logical to try and improve our quality of life. A shorter work week would do that, particularly for those in hourly positions and two- earner couples. Both men and women would have more time for everything, from cutting grass to cooking dinner. Empty-nesters or singles would have a chance of following their dreams like becoming an artist, entrepreneur, or even a boat builder.
Shorter hours would also help create more jobs for workers otherwise left behind by technological change until new jobs are created at a sufficient level to reemploy those who now can’t find decent-paying work. Although somewhat controversial, a shorter work week might help spread available jobs around keeping more people on the job and reducing unemployment.
Of course, you are probably thinking shorter hours means lower total pay. However, if done correctly, both productivity and consumption could rise without loss of wages. This new standard would primarily affect hourly employees. They finish work exhausted only to go home to an equally exhausting “second shift.” A reduction in the standard work week would improve the quality of life for these stressed and overworked individuals.
Does chasing the American dream have any meaning when the dream has no quality of life worth living?
What do you think?