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NextGen Magazine


Report: Many Factors Contribute to Americans Working Fewer Hours Than They Did Pre-Pandemic

S.J. Steinhardt
Published Date:
Mar 7, 2024

Americans aren’t working as much as they did before the pandemic, CNBC Make It reported.

Between December 2019 and December 2023, the median number of hours worked by U.S. hourly workers fell from 38.4 to 37.7 a week, a decline of almost 2 percent, according to a new report from the ADP Research Institute, which tracked about 13 million hourly jobs at private nonfarm employers using individual payroll records.

The post-pandemic job recovery was strong, but it was accompanied by a rise in part-time labor and a decline in median hours worked. In December 2019, part-time jobs accounted for 43 percent of all hourly jobs. By December 2023, they accounted for 47 percent.

But there are other factors. The U.S. workweek has been shrinking for decades, as the American economy shifts from producing goods to providing services. Manufacturing jobs with fixed hours have been lost, in favor of service-based jobs such as accounting and customer service that offer more flexibility. The shorter workweek is also attributable to employees’ desire for more flexibility, rising wages, job availability and talent shortages, among other factors, according to ADP Chief Economist Nela Richardson.

In addition, a record number of Americans, more than 27 million, are working part-time, Labor Department figures showed. Women accounted for 55 percent of all part-time hourly workers in December 2023, and are 1.6 times more likely to work part-time than men, according to the National Women’s Law Center.

A lack of child care and elder care options has forced some women to reduce their hours or leave the workforce altogether, said Richardson.

Another factor is that Gen Zers and millennials (adults 35 and younger) want greater flexibility and work-life balance. Younger employees could be working less because of personal preference, said Richardson. Options for remote or hybrid work arising from the pandemic have prompted demands among these generations for alternative working conditions and hours, research from Deloitte in June 2023 indicated.

“If you look at what types of jobs young employees are opting for, it’s not manufacturing or labor-intensive jobs with strict hours,” said Richardson. “Instead, young people are gravitating to service-sector jobs, which can offer a great deal of flexibility.” 

The decline in working hours could be employer-driven, said Richardson, as small businesses continue to struggle with inflation and hiring qualified workers. Some small businesses could be hiring more workers and giving them fewer hours, or cutting hours to avoid paying overtime.

“There are still several pockets of the labor market where there [are] just not enough workers,” said Richardson. “Coming out of the ‘great resignation,’ employers, especially small businesses, are filling in the gaps with several part-time workers versus one full-time worker so they’re more resilient to future labor shortages.” 

“It’s too soon to tell what this trend of reduced working hours means for the economy overall,” said Richardson, “but it’s clear that people value time more than they did before the pandemic, and that’s changing how they approach work.