Americans are apparently getting lazier—at least according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In its American Time Use Survey, released this past week, the BLS found that Americans working full time from home—33% in 2022, up from 25% in 2019—put in 2.5 hours fewer a day than their colleagues at the office. “It’s no wonder labor force productivity has been negative for the past five straight quarters amid office occupancy that remains at sub-50% in the largest U.S. cities,” writes DataTrek Research co-founder Nicholas Colas.
Overall, the U.S. civilian population worked an average of 3.23 hours a day in 2022, down from 3.26 hours a day in 2019. (That seemingly low number is for the total population, including nonworkers like babies.) Labor productivity is the engine for gains in economic output. Living standards are driven by more output per worker.
The BLS findings will undoubtedly provide companies an argument for bringing workers back to the office. Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently called coming to work a “moral issue.” Musk’s point is that assembly-line workers can’t work from home, and so engineers, designers, and support staff shouldn’t be able to unless there’s a very good reason.
Given these numbers, returning to work would provide considerable economic stimulus. If workers fill up offices at a 2019 rate and work 8.2 hours a day instead of the at-home 5.7 hours, the economy would add roughly 800 million weeks of work, an 8% bump. Of course, maybe they should do so anyway to protect their jobs from hardworking AI chatbots.
Source: Barron’s June 30, 2023 | By Al Root