Exactly Who Is Working Fewer Hours, Earning More, and Enjoying More Leisure?


These are the opening paragraphs of a brief article by Marian Tupy for Reason

“One of my favorite Human Progress datasets comes from the Conference Board and deals with the decline in the amount of work over time. Globally, a worker could expect to work 2,227 hours in 1950. By 2016, however, he or she worked only 1,855 hours. That’s a decline of 17 percent.

“Over the same time period, global inflation-adjusted income per capita per year rose from $11,578 to $24,400, or 111 percent. Put differently, we are working less while making more money.”

Notwithstanding the assertions of the family time and sleep sacrificed by successful workaholics, I am fairly certain that this trend may be true of many earners in the top quarter to third of the American workforce.

But I am even more certain that a great many American workers would be taken aback reading those paragraphs. Certainly workers in the bottom half to two-thirds of American income earners are often working two or even three jobs to aggregate incomes still significantly lower than what they might have earned 40 years ago.

Of course, the problem with these statistics and other studies cited by Tupy is that they are so broad as to be almost meaningless. At the most basic level, how is work defined for the billions who have subsistence existences or who work in informal or underground economies? Certainly, there must be a great deal of broad estimating involved.

Likewise, given the increasing income inequality in most “developed” nations, per capita averaging is not especially indicative. The per capita income in the U.S. is, for instance, $53,750. But compare that figure to the per capita income figures for Ohio counties:

ohio-average-income-by-county-1 ohio-average-income-by-county-2 ohio-average-income-by-county-3

The contrast in the per capita incomes is even more striking between the top 50 communities and the bottom 50 communities.

Here are the top 50 communities:

ohio-average-income-by-municipality-1 ohio-average-income-by-municipality-2 ohio-average-income-by-municipality-3

And here are the bottom 50 communities:

ohio-average-income-by-municipality-4 ohio-average-income-by-municipality-5 ohio-average-income-by-municipality-6 ohio-average-income-by-municipality-7


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