As dire news about the economy continues to unfold, we are forced to look back in history at other great economic downtimes for inspiration–and to new ideas that might radically change employment.
The problem of unemployment and joblessness in this country is not due to the fact that work week is too long, but rather, it is the result of more complex social, economic and other factors that research in these fields has sought to unravel.
While most people who already hold standard 5-day workweek jobs might be glad to have a shorter workweek, this alone will not solve the issue of unemployment on a larger scale but it is conceivable to think that the benefit of having a shorter work week might influence some to rejoin the workforce, but again, this would not be a panacea to unemployment, even if it does allow certain individuals to find regular employment within a standard workweek.
Joblessness in an issue that is rooted in a more complex framework when one thinks about it widely. For instance, many people who are currently unemployed might be suffering from illnesses, mental and otherwise, that prevent them from working a standard 5-day week. By simply stating that the typical work week would be shortened by one or even two days would not make a difference to those who weren’t working since there are likely very good reasons why they do not seek full-time employment.
Additionally, there is the issue of childcare and family matters, which is another reason why many people do not have regular 5-day per week jobs. Instead of working at a job, there are plenty of people who need to stay at home and take care of their children or elderly family members. Going to work at a job might actually end up being more costly to these people because they would have to find care for these loved ones during the hours they are at work. For these people who take care of family members, it might be reasonable to think that a shortened working week might encourage employment because they would not be expected to commit 40 or more hours of employment per week, which is the expected standard at most places they would work.
In addition to the lessened cost of childcare for those who simply do not work because it is more feasible economically to stay at home and take care of the children or elderly family members, the fact that gasoline is used extensively on a daily basis to get to work, thus taking away from a family’s income might be another issue. For example, if some people worked slightly longer hours for four days per week and on the fifth day were spared having to get in their cars and drive to work, costing anywhere from a small to great amount (sometimes totaling what amounts to one hour of work) this might be more incentive. This is not suggesting that people are simply not working because it’s too expensive to drive to work (at least not at this point, we will see what happens in a few years when gasoline becomes unaffordable) but this might be an added economic advantage to those who very likely have other reasons for staying at home instead of going into the workforce.
In sum, joblessness in this country occurs because people have varying needs that are not, for whatever the reasons might be, suited to a full-time work week. Offering a shorter workweek might sweeten the situation for those who already are employed full time and also might encourage caretakers and other similar individuals to enter the workforce, but it would not solve the problem of joblessness.