The coronavirus shutdown is revealing America's troubling obsession with work

New York going to work

If the US stayed completely shut down for two months, the typical US worker would work about the same number of hours this year as a pre-pandemic German worker.

  • The novel coronavirus outbreak has put a lot of people out of work and at home due to stay at home orders and lockdowns.
  • Former Rhode Island State Representative David Segal recently tweeted that even if Americans continued to stay home for the next several weeks, "the average American would still finish the year having worked around as many hours as Germans work in an *typical* year."
  • Business Insider compared the hours worked in a typical year by Americans to workers in other countries using OECD data.
  • Based on that data, if the US stayed completely shut down for two months, the typical US worker would work about the same number of hours this year as a pre-pandemic German worker.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

As many states are enforcing stay-at-home orders, non-essential business shutdowns, and lockdowns around the US during the novel coronavirus pandemic, many Americans find themselves not working.   

Americans typically work such long hours that even with a complete US shutdown for two months, the typical worker in the US could still end up working more hours than their counterparts in other wealthy, developed countries would have worked before a pandemic. Advertisement

Former Democratic Rhode Island State Representative David Segal recently tweeted, "The let-them-die push comes after just one week of hanging out at home. If we did this for another 6 or 7 weeks and then went back to work as normal, the average American would still finish the year having worked around as many hours as Germans work in an *typical* year."

 

Segal's point is basically correct. Business Insider used data on the average annual hours worked in various countries from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to see how many more hours Americans typically worked in a year than their counterparts elsewhere. The data includes hours worked from full-time, part-time, and part-year workers.
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We looked at the average total annual hours worked in 2018 for the 10 countries with the largest GDP in 2019 that had available work data in the OECD database.

Based on the OECD data, the average US worker worked 1,786 hours in 2018, 423 more than the 1,363 hours worked annually by the average German worker. Assuming a 40-hour workweek, that's around 10 and a half additional weeks of work. The typical pre-pandemic US worker similarly worked almost six more weeks per year than the typical French worker and the typical UK worker.That comparison suggests that a complete US shutdown of two months would mean Americans worked roughly the same number of hours as a pre-pandemic German worker. Similarly, a little over a month of a shutdown in the US would lead to Americans working a similar number of hours as someone in France or the UK in a typical work year.Advertisement

The following chart shows the average annual hours worked in 2018 in those 10 countries:

hours worked by country higher res

Business Insider/Madison Hoff, data from OECD

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