Sunday, September 2, 2007

Is the 40-hour work week relevant?

Yesterday's Cleveland Plain Dealer had an interesting article (available here) on the state of the American work week. Surprisingly, the average person worked 1.7 hours less per week in 2006 as compared to 1956 (39.2 hours versus 40.9 hours). It notes, however, that these statistics can be misleading, since they lump blue collar and white collar workers together. In reality, the white collar workforce is expected to work longer and harder, often putting in 50 and 60 hour weeks. Blue collar workers, on the other hand, only average 34 hours per week. Moreover, despite the shorter average work week, we still work more hours per year in this country than any other Western industrialized country except South Korea. In light of these statistics, is the 40 hour work week as relevant as it was in 1938 when the Fair Labor Standards Act was enacted to curb exploitation, boost job creation, bring the country out of the Great Depression? An argument can be made that regulated overtime is no longer needed, as companies would voluntarily pay overtime to non-exempt employees as a recruiting and retention tool to get and keep the best workers. Regardless, out of the fear of exploitation and a perception of entitlement, the FLSA and its overtime provisions are not going anywhere anytime soon.