The slow destruction of the 40-hour workweek

By Steve Eggleston

The political forces that gave us the 40-hour workweek have been working at its destruction for quite a while. The delayed employer health insurance mandate that is part of PlaceboCare was designed to force employers to cover those employees who work at least 30 hours per week. Just last month, the Democrat Party of Wisconsin, as part of what I called the French Resolution, called for a 35-hour workweek.

Earlier this week, they got an endorsement of sorts from Carlos Slim, the Mexican telecom magnate who, depending on the measurement, is the richest or second-richest private citizen in the world. The Financial Times reports that, at a business conference in Paraguay, Slim called for a 3-day workweek so that there would be more time to relax. The other two parts of his call, an 11-hour workday and a retirement age of 75, aren’t exactly a part of the Left’s playbook, but even with an 11-hour workday, that would mean only 33 hours would become the new standard for a “full” workweek.

Perhaps they’re just justifying the continued lack of full-time jobs since the Great Recession. In June 2007, there were 122,150,000 people working at least 35 hours per week on a seasonally-unadjusted basis. That number dropped slightly to 121,845,000 in June 2008, fell precipitously to 114,014,000 in June 2009, and continued dropping until it hit a modern rock bottom of 113,856,000 in June 2011. It has recovered some of that since, but the 119,472,000 full-time workers last month is still over 2.6 million fewer than there were in June 2007.

By contrast, the part-time workforce has increased dramatically in the Obama era. In 2007, there were 24,808,000 people working fewer than 35 hours per week. That number dropped by 4,000 in June 2008, but then it exploded to 26,026,000 in June 2009. It has only increased every June since, with a June record 27,631,000 people working fewer than 35 hours per week last month.

If it weren’t for people working multiple part-time jobs to, presumably, get to at least 35 hours worked per week, that “full-time” workforce drop would be even worse. After 5 of the previous 6 June measures of multiple jobholders whose jobs are all part-time bounced between 1,781,000 and 1,812,000 (with June 2009 well below that), and June 2013 seeing 1,808,000 multiple part-timers, that number spiked to 1,888,000 last month.