The End of the 40-Hour Work Week

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — The era of a 9-to-5 work week appears to be coming to an end.

Higher-level workers are increasingly being asked to put in 50 hours or more a week, effectively working an 8-to-6 work week at the very least, while lower income workers are often forced to work fewer hours but at jobs with irregular schedules, according to a comprehensive report from the Center for American Progress, which reviewed dozens of studies from the previous 30 years to understand the changing work/life struggles of the country’s labor force.

Driving these changes, as the center explains it, are companies turning lower-level full-time jobs into part-time employment to cut costs, savings that come at the expense of workers – and their families – losing the traditional schedules and financial benefits that come with full-time employment.

Some 38% of men in professional and management positions worked at least 50 hours a week between 2006 and 2008 up from 34% who worked those hours 30 years prior, based on government studies cited in the report. Women in higher-level positions experienced an even steeper change, with 14% working 50 hours or more in 2006 and 2008 compared to just 6% who did between 1977 and 1979.

These longer work schedules, which the center describes as being “ramped up versions” of what full-time employment once meant, were found to be particularly common on the higher end of the income ladder.

“Many of the highest-paying and highest-status professional jobs require very long hours—and, in today’s ‘winner take all’ economy, turning them down can extract a sharp wage penalty,” the researchers write in the report.

Much has been written about the number of Americans forced to work longer hours in the aftermath of the recession, as companies cut their payrolls, but as the literature reviewed in this report shows, many higher-level professionals were in danger of becoming workaholics long before that. One Harvard study published in 2006, for example, found that a fifth of those in the top 6% of income earners actually worked 60-hour weeks on average.

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