Mar 4, 2023 - Economy

America chips away at the 40-hour workweek

Illustration of a stone clock face with a slice cut out of it like pie

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Part-time work is on the rise in the U.S. — and far more people are working less by choice than by obligation.

Why it matters: It’s one more sign of a new attitude toward work.

  • A lot of people are reconsidering the 40-hour week,” said Lonnie Golden, an economist at Penn State Abington. “And I don’t think we’re putting the toothpaste back in the tube.”

By the numbers: More than 22 million Americans are working less than 35 hours a week for "noneconomic reasons," according to Labor Department data.

  • That means they're working part-time not because their hours were cut but because they're choosing to for personal reasons.
  • 4 million Americans, meanwhile, are working part-time but actively seeking full-time work.

What's happening: Many of the reasons people are choosing to work part-time stem from the pandemic, economists say. There are parents working less to take care of kids or adult children cutting hours to care for aging parents.

  • But there are also people who saw the pandemic as a chance to re-evaluate work-life balance and figured that they could lean on stimulus checks or savings to work less — for good, Golden noted.
  • "40 isn't necessarily for everyone anymore."

Case in point: Ernie Park, an engineer, has transitioned to part-time after years of full-time work in the tech industry, he told the Wall Street Journal's Lauren Weber. He reduced his hours to spend time with family, and now runs a newsletter called "Part-Time Tech" to connect others in his field to part-time work.

Reality check: The vast majority of Americans still work 40 hours — or more — a week. But the rise in voluntary part-time work suggests that might be shifting.

What to watch: The idea of a 4-day workweek, which gained traction during the pandemic, has stuck around and could come to the U.S.

  • A large trial in the U.K., the results of which were released this past week, found that a 4-day workweek significantly reduced workers' stress and burnout levels.
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