Thursday, January 27, 2011

A disturbing thought

I found a particular banner ad disturbing today. It's an ad from and it asks the question "How many hours does the average American work per year?". The possible answers are 989, 1777, and 3148. I haven't clicked on the ad to find out. I'm afraid of what the answer might be.

To put a scale to this question, start by calculating what one's hours ought to be. There are 52 weeks in the year and 40 hours per week, assuming 8 hours worked per day and no holidays. That's a total of 2080 hours. If you throw in a holiday per month, which most people don't get, that cuts the hours worked down to 1984.

So let's get back to those answers. 1777 sounds about right for an average; but, only if we're at something approaching full employment. And for those who didn't take Econ 101, that's an unemployment rate of roughly 4%. The latest unemployment numbers put us at 9.4%.  But that's the "official" number that doesn't take into account those who have stopped looking for work. Throw them in and the real rate is closer to 20%. So the reasonable sounding answer just can't be right.

How about 3148? That means two things: Those who have jobs are working their asses off and employers would rather pay a boatload of OT rather than take the risk of hiring new people. A company acts that way when it expects hard economic times over the long haul. Scary.

And 989 hours? Just as scary. Having 20% of the workforce out of action wouldn't drop our estimated count from 1984 hours down to an average of 989. If this number is correct, then few of those who have jobs aren't being called in for a full 40 hours per week. A company acts this way when it sees itself winding down. You cut your workers' hours when you're about to put the company into mothballs. Scarier still.

Some "state of the Union", eh?

So which is it? Well, if there were a large number of people making OT hand over fist, then they should be spending that money hand over fist. Do you see any such economic activity? I don't.

I still haven't clicked that ad.