Work hours

Date posted: November 17, 2011

In judging the economy, the number of jobs receives the greatest attention. But if we think about it, how many hours people work is also important in assessing the health of the employment market. Do we have data that tracks work hours, and if so what does it tell us? N.C. State University economist Mike Walden responds.

“We do have this data … that is, it is an item that economists follow and perhaps doesn’t get as much popular press attention. And the recent trends have been, I would say, good. Average hours worked per week is actually up. They bottomed out at about 33 hours a week at the depth of the recession. Today they’re at 33.6. So, that’s good. That means that people who do have a job and are working are actually working more hours and, therefore, presumably earning more pay.

“But the bad news side of this always half-full, half-empty glass is the number of work hours per week on average is still below a pre-recessionary levels. Going into the recession average work was putting in about 35 hours a week. Again that’s 33.6.

“And also the work-hour week today is well below the average in the 1990s, where it was 34.5 hours. So, what we’re getting here … with this … statistic is … the same old story that we’ve seen (with) a lot of economic statistics: We have improvement, but the improvement is still not where we want it to be.”

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