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Take Back Your Time Day

by John de Graaf, Co-author of Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic, National Coordinator for "Take Back Your Time Day"

Help us plan "Take Back Your Time Day"—October 24, 2003.

What is it? "Take Back Your Time Day" is a nationwide initiative to challenge the epidemic of overwork, over scheduling, and time famine that now threatens our health, our families, our communities, and our environment.

Why should you care? Are you, or your friends or relatives, working more now but enjoying it less? Does your family's schedule feel like a road race? If so, you're not alone. Millions of Americans are overworked, over-scheduled and just plain stressed out.

It starts at work. We're putting in longer hours on the job now than we did in the 1950s, despite promises of a coming age of leisure before the year 2000. In fact, we're working more than medieval peasants did, and more than the citizens of any other industrial country! Mandatory overtime is at its highest levels ever, in spite of a recession. On average, we work 350 hours, nearly nine full weeks, longer than our peers in Western Europe do. Twenty six percent of us got no vacations at all last year while the Europeans AVERAGED six weeks!

Overwork threatens our health, reducing time for exercise and encouraging consumption of calorie-laden fast foods. Job stress costs our economy $200 billion a year.

Overwork threatens our marriages, families, and relationships as we find less time for each other.

It weakens communities as we have less time to volunteer.

It reduces employment as fewer people are hired, then required to work longer hours.

It leaves many of us with little time to vote, much less be informed, active citizens.

It reduces our security, contributing to accidents large and small.

It even leads to growing neglect and abuse of pets.

And finally, it contributes to the destruction of our environment, encouraging use of convenience and throwaway items and leaving us without time even to recycle. Every environmentalist knows that on a finite planet, unlimited economic growth is unsustainable. Already we'd need four planets if the whole world duplicated our lifestyle. We need to offer free time rather than more money and stuff as the reward for increasing productivity.

We're not against work; in fact, we understand that useful and creative work is essential to happiness. But American life has gotten way out of balance. Producing and consuming more has become the single-minded obsession of the American economy, while other values, such as strong families and communities, good health and a clean environment, active citizenship and social justice, time for nature and the soul, are increasingly neglected. By contrast, the Europeans demand a balanced life. Wouldn't you like one too?

On Friday, October 24, 2003, thousands, perhaps millions, of Americans will just say NO to the overwork, over-scheduling and overstress that threaten to overwhelm our lives. They'll take the day or part of it off work, and join in hundreds of activities to initiate a much-needed national conversation about work/life balance and how we can reclaim it.

The date falls nine weeks before the end of the year, making the point that we Americans now work nine weeks more than our trans-Atlantic neighbors.
Officially endorsed by the Unitarian Universalist Association Washington Office.

April 6th Op-Ed Piece for the New York Times

Seventy Years Later, America Still Needs a Break

By John de Graaf

April 6, 2003, marks the 70th anniversary of a momentous yet forgotten event in American history.

You won't find the date in most history books, but on April 6, 1933, the United States Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill that would have made the official U.S. workweek THIRTY hours (don't reach for your glasses; you're reading it right).

Thirty hours—anything more would be overtime! That was a whole lifetime ago. Yet today, in an era when American productivity is least four times what it was then, most of us can't get our workweeks down to forty hours.

And while millions of Americans are without work, even more are working mandatory overtime shifts or far longer than they would if they had a real choice in the matter.

But a new movement is being officially launched on April 6, 2003—one that will challenge overwork, over-scheduling and over-stress in America and fight for more balanced lives for all of us.

The 1933 30-hour Black-Connery Bill was an effort to "share the work" and reduce a national unemployment rate that stood at 25%. The Bill had strong support from labor and religious leaders who argued that working people needed time for family life, education, recreation and spirituality as much as they needed higher wages.

But the bill failed in the House of Representatives. Instead, the Fair Labor Standards Act, passed five years later, gave us a statutory forty hour workweek.

In 1965, a U.S. Senate subcommittee predicted a 22-hour workweek by 1985, 14 hours by 2000. It was the promise of automation. We got the automated technologies, but we didn't get the time.

In fact, using data from the Current Population Survey of the United States, Juliet Schor, author of The Overworked American, finds that the average American actually ADDED 199 hours—five weeks—to his or her annual work-time between 1973 and 2000, a period during which worker productivity per hour nearly doubled.

According to the International Labor Organization, Americans now work 1978 hours annually, a full 350 hours—nine weeks—more than Western Europeans average. Even medieval peasants worked less than we do!

What happened? In effect, as a society, the United States took all of its increases in labor productivity in the form of money and stuff instead of time. Of course, we didn't all get the money; the very poor earn even less in real terms than they did then, and the largest share of the increase went to the richest Americans.

Nonetheless, most Americans have far more stuff now than they did then. During the last 30 years, our real per-capita consumption expenditures have nearly doubled—from $11,171 to $22,152 per year.

But greater consumption hasn't made us more joyful; fewer Americans say they are “very happy” today than during the 1950s. And the harmful impacts of our increase in work-time are being felt in many areas of society.

  • Health. Physicians warn that “time urgency” is a leading cause of heart disease and weakened immune systems. Consumption of fast foods and lack of time for exercise has led to an epidemic of obesity and diabetes. More than half of us get too little sleep for optimum health. Clinical depression has soared.
     
  • Families. The number of families who regularly eat dinner together has dropped precipitously, and children's lives now mirror their parents overwork and over-scheduling. Even pets suffer neglect and abandonment from overworked owners.
     
  • Community and Civic Life. Studies show a decline in volunteering and participation in community groups. One-fourth of all Americans say they no longer have time to vote, much less be active, informed citizens.
     
  • Environment. A recent study by psychologists Tim Kasser and Kirk Warren Brown shows that overworked Americans are more likely to use throwaway items and less likely to recycle, or practice other ecologically-friendly behaviors.
     
  • Competitiveness. Worker stress and burnout now costs the U.S. economy $344 billion a year. Worker productivity declines sharply during the latter part of long work-shifts.

I think you get the point. We're working too much for our own good.

By contrast, over the past thirty years, Europeans have made a different choice—to live simpler, more balanced lives and work fewer hours. Take Norway, for instance. Norwegian productivity per worker hour is 10% higher than ours, yet their per capita annual income is 16% lower. The reason? Norwegians work 29% --14 weeks per year—less than we do. Western Europeans average 5-6 weeks of paid vacation a year; we average two weeks.

Seventy years after the passage of the 30-hour workweek bill by the U.S. Senate, it's time to revisit the issue of work-time, over-scheduled lives and burnout—not because work or consumption are bad, but because producing and consuming have become the focus of American life, at the expense of so many other important values.

That's why we're launching the Take Back Your Time Movement and the event we call "Take Back Your Time Day."

On Friday, October 24, 2003, thousands of Americans will participate in hundreds of teach-ins and other public events to begin a new national dialogue about our time poverty and what we can do about it. The date falls nine weeks before the end of the year, symbolizing the nine full weeks more we work each year compared to our trans-Atlantic neighbors.

"Take Back Your Time Day" is a non-partisan event welcoming all viewpoints to the conversation. We believe Time Day can do for our overworked, over-scheduled, overstressed lives what Earth Day did for the biosphere. Join us now, because there's no present like the time.

John de Graaf, co-author of Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic, is the national coordinator for "Take Back Your Time Day".

For more information contact families @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Wednesday, October 26, 2011.

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