Should a 21-Hour Workweek Be the New US Standard?

Should the U.S. ditch the standard 40-hour working week in favor of a 21-hour workweek? A report out of the New Economics Foundation argues that such a move would help the environment, boost the economy and promote social justice.

The NEF cites Britain as a country that's achieved success by slashing its "normal" workweek to 21 hours, writing, "If the average time devoted to unpaid housework and childcare in Britain in 2005 were valued in terms of the minimum wage, it would be worth the equivalent of 21 percent of the UK’s gross domestic product."

Read on for three of the many proposed benefits of a 21-hour workweek.

  • Reduced greenhouse gas emissions. A shorter workweek would "help break the habit of living to work, working to earn and earning to consume," according to the NEF. Since workers would be commuting less often than usual, pollution from passenger cars would theoretically be reduced.
  • Decreased unemployment. The NEF envisions a 21-hour workweek as a vehicle to evenly distribute paid jobs across the working-age population, lowering unemployment rates and the negative side effects of unemployment and long working hours.
  • Economic growth. Independence from today's credit-fueled, consumption-hungry society could yield a more resilient economy. "Business would benefit from more women entering the workforce, from men leading more rounded, balanced lives, and from reductions in workplace stress associated with juggling paid employment and home-based responsibilities," adds the NEF.

Such a drastic change in the way America works couldn't occur overnight, but the NEF model is compelling nevertheless. How do you think a 21-hour workweek would influence U.S. society?

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