How About a 30-Hour Work Week?

I’ve been thinking a good bit lately about the notion of a 30-hour work week. Many economists and sociologists have pointed out numerous advantages to declaring 30 hours to be the standard for full-time work, not the least of which is a likely significant uptick in employment. In theory, a 30-hour work week, assuming the demand for workers stays stable, will result in 25% more people being added to the workforce. Of course, that won’t be the case because in some cases employers will simply pay the 30-hour worker 1.5 times their standard salary or hourly rate for overtime. This would also have salutary effects on the economy as a way of growing the middle class, but it would reduce the impact on unemployment.

A 30-hour work week, compared to the present standard 40-hour week which was adopted federally in 1936 by the Fair Labor Standards Act, provides a solution to at least the following acknowledged problems in our present society:

  • overwork
  • unemployment
  • overconsumption
  • high carbon emissions
  • low well-being
  • entrenched inequalities
  • lack of time to live sustainably, to care for each other and simply to enjoy life.

(That list is from this New York Times article, which provides a decent summary of the arguments for a 30-hour week.)

Obviously, just cutting the work week and continuing business more or less as usual isn’t going to be helpful. We need a period of adjustment and we need to rethink some of the work rules and regulations that govern the workplace today. But 30-hour weeks are more sustainable over the long haul, more conducive to creating a viable middle class (which is the only real hope we have for overcoming the current economic abyss), and just better all the way around.

The Socialist Party of America — one of two truly progressive parties in our nation (the other being the Green Party) — has a platform plank calling for a 30-hour work week and six hours of vacation time every year.

We’ve eliminated child labor, taken the pre-union 60-plus-hour workweek down to 40, created safer working conditions and largely reduced the exploitation of women in the workplace, all of which seemed impossible at the time they were done. We can do this, too, if we wish to do so.

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