NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – On Fridays, chances are that if you put in a 40-hour workweek, you feel pretty exhausted. So, how does a 32-hour workweek sound? There’s new legislation in Congress to do just that.
The 40-hour workweek was put in place when Franklin D. Roosevelt was president. A lot has changed with our economy in the past 80-plus years, but the 40-hour week has stayed the same.
“John Maynard Keynes, that very famous economist, thought that by this time we would all be working 15 hours a week, and enjoying the rest of our time as leisure because we would be so productive because of advancements in technology. We certainly have not gotten there,” said Belmont University Associate Professor of Economics Dr. Kara Smith.
Smith said that the “Thirty-Two Hour Workweek Act,” introduced in Congress only for hourly workers, could have obvious big benefits:
- More leisure time for hobbies
- More quality time with the family
- Less time commuting.
But, it can also be a win for business and the American economy.
“There is some evidence that you can overall actually increase worker productivity when they are working fewer hours. When humans are on average more productive, that’s a higher GDP for everyone,” said Smith.
This isn’t Congress’s first stab at the shorter work week. In 2021, the idea never made it out of a Congressional committee.
Smith said that the legislation could be a good method of nudging businesses beyond their comfort zone, but she also cautioned that it is risky to legislate a big change like this for all industries nationwide.
“You might be legislating an outcome that for certain industries might make them worse off. If you think particularly about healthcare, childcare, these are industries where understaffing is a chronic problem. And if you say that every industry is going to work 32 hours, rather than 40, it’s a little bit harder to see those immediate short-run benefits in those industries as maybe other types of hourly work.”
A Democratic California congressman introduced this bill. It’s currently in the House Education and Workforce Committee. The Republican chair of that committee said the U.S. does not need more top-down federal mandates.