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April 1997, Vol. 120, No. 4
Phillip L. Rones, Jennifer M. Gardner, and Randy E. Ilg
Efforts to shorten and standardize the length of the workweek were at the forefront of labor market issues in the first four decades of this century, culminating in the enactment of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.1 After long and hard-fought legal and political battles, the act allowed for a maximum workweek of 44 hours, which then would decline to 40 hours in the third year after enactment. Although employers still could demand longer workweeks, hours worked beyond the legal maximum would require time-and-a-half pay.
While workweek issues have fallen from the fore in recent decades, they still touch upon many key labor market topics and trends. For example, arguably the two most dominant trends in the post-World War II work world have been the influx of women, particularly mothers, into the job market, and the steady decline in the retirement age. Women have increased their numbers in the work force and shifted their work schedules towards year-round, full-time employment. In addition, as work activity among older men was declining, those left working were increasingly likely to work part time.
Two important issues in the 1990s are worker displacement and the quality of jobs, both of which have workweek components. Even as the overall U.S. employment numbers have risen substantially, millions of jobs have been lost each year to corporate and government restructuring. A common perception is that those spared such job loss, particularly those in managerial and professional jobs, have been compelled to work longer workweeks to protect their own positions. As for the quality of jobs, newly created jobs often have been stereotyped (incorrectly) as part-time, low-wage, poor-quality jobs.2
This article examines trends in hours at work from two perspectives. First, trends in the average workweek and changes in the distribution of hours worked since the mid-1970s are examined. Then, the focus is expanded to estimate annual work hours. This figure is affected not only by the length of the workweek, but also by the extent to which people work at all, and the number of weeks that they work during the year. Lastly, the appendix provides a discussion of the differences between hours data collected following the redesign of the Current Population Survey (CPS), implemented in January 1994, and those obtained prior to 1994. Because of the effect of those changes on work-hour estimates, trend data in the article are restricted to the period through 1993.3
This excerpt is from an article published in the April 1997 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.
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1 See Peyton K. Elder and Heidi D. Miller, "The Fair Labor Standards Act: changes of four decades," Monthly Labor Review, July 1979, pp. 1016.
2 See Randy E. Ilg, "The nature of employment growth, 198995," Monthly Labor Review, June 1996, pp. 2936, for a discussion of the industries and occupations that experienced job growth in recent years.
3 This trend analysis ends in 1993 due to the introduction of a redesigned Current Population Survey (CPS) in January 1994. The new CPS asked different questions to obtain average hours data than the pre-1994 survey, rendering the data not strictly comparable. See the appendix for a discussion of the effects on hours of changes in the CPS. Data for 1995 are presented, however, in the overall description of between-group differences in work hours.
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