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Are Americans working too much?

Finding the patterns

Many are, and it affects everyone. Here's how, in four charts.

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    An employee works on his computer at the office of CloudFactory, a Canadian startup that bases itself in Kathmandu. American workers clock more hours per year at the office than their counterparts in many industrial nations, including Germany, Britain, and Japan.
    Navesh Chitrakar/Reuters/File
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How much do Americans work?

The standard “40-hour workweek” is actually much longer in the United States. Employees with full-time jobs work an average of 47 hours per week. Nearly 4 in 10 work more than 50 hours per week. Americans work more hours per year than people in many other leading industrial nations, including Germany, Britain, and Japan.

Jacob Turcotte/Staff

 How does this affect the overall labor force?

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For one, longer hours for some workers means fewer hours are available for others, and there’s a disparity between who is getting enough (or more than enough) work and who is not, labor advocates say.

The share of part-time workers in the economy soared during the Great Recession and has remained above pre-recession levels. Additionally, the number of part-time workers overall has been increasing for decades.

Jacob Turcotte/Staff

Is this a problem for employers, too?

According to economists, it reduces the pool of available talent as people with caregiving duties (mainly women) and those who can’t work unlimited hours are forced to drop out. A 2004 study found that 86 percent of women who had quit professional or managerial jobs were actually forced out because of long, inflexible hours. 

Men’s longer hours have a dropout effect on others as well. A woman with a partner who works more than 50 hours a week is 44 percent more likely to quit her job. That figure jumps to 112 percent if her husband works 60 hours. In part because of these trends, participation in the US labor force is at its lowest rate in nearly four decades.

Jacob Turcotte/Staff

Could new regulations help?

In May, the Labor Department doubled the maximum income threshold below which salaried workers qualify for overtime pay– from $23,660 to $47,476 a year. The new rule is set to go into effect this December and make 33 percent of full-time, salaried workers eligible for overtime (an increase from about 8 percent). An estimated 4.2 million more workers will be eligible for overtime.

On average, the changes will mean an estimated $252 more in weekly wages for affected men, and $227 per week for women.

Jacob Turcotte/Staff

“For those who aren’t paid overtime but are expected to work more than 40 hours per week, the choice between working and providing care for their children becomes pressing,” reads an August 2015 report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. “Increasing coverage of overtime requirements is likely to have far reaching benefits for single mothers and their children.”

SOURCES: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Institute for Women’s Policy Research, ‘Fast-Track Women and the “Choice” to Stay Home,’ by Pamela Stone and Meg Lovejoy, ‘Reshaping the Work-Family Debate,’ by Joan C. Williams

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