Americans put in an average of 1,767 hours of work per year, which makes us more industrious than Germans by about 435 hours, and less so than Mexicans, who work 357 hours more annually.
The information comes from WalletHub, a personal-finance website that sources data from the World Economic Forum.
By 10 different metrics such as workweek hours, the share of workers with multiple jobs and annual volunteer hours per resident, our nation’s hardest-working states are Alaska, North Dakota, Nebraska, South Dakota and Texas. At the bottom of the rankings are Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, West Virginia and New Mexico.
Wisconsin, with a ranking of 23 on the list of the hardest-working states, lies snugly in the middle of the rankings. We don’t work too much and we don’t work too little. You could say we’ve got the work-life balance just right.
Which brings me to Labor Day, falling on Monday, Sept. 6, this year.
For many Americans, the day itself and the long weekend it creates probably only symbolize summer’s final shebang. Its origins are darker than that. It was created in the 19th century to pay tribute to the contributions and achievements of American workers, and became an official federal holiday in 1894. But this “workingmen’s holiday” didn’t spring from the gladness and gratitude of the industrial complex’s heart. It arose at the height of the Industrial Revolution, when the average American worked 12-hour days, seven days a week in order to eke out a basic living. Children as young as five routinely worked, and unsafe working conditions predominated for all, including insufficient access to fresh air or sanitary facilities or breaks.
Working conditions began to improve with the growing prominence of labor unions, but significant change didn’t happen overnight. Riots and strikes forced the issue, including the 1886 Haymarket Riot and the 1894 Pullman Palace Car Company strike, both in Chicago. With railroad traffic nationwide crippled by the boycott of all Pullman railway cars, the federal government dispatched troops to break the strike, unleashing a wave of riots. Only in the wake of this massive worker unrest did Congress pass the act creating the day that President Cleveland signed into law.
It seems such a small thing, a day off to appreciate workers. But days off were hard to come by back then. Perhaps this history of overwork that began with the Industrial Revolution is the reason why Americans also have a hard time relaxing. Americans leave about half their vacation time on the table each year, according to the same WalletHub data. One of the reasons for this, the study found, is that employees fear they will look less dedicated to the job than other employees, risking a layoff. A fear-driven working habit doesn’t sound like progress to me, so I’ll leave that there.
Meanwhile, when you’re celebrating this weekend with your tradition of choice, tip your bottle, glass, can or chin to our ancestors and the labor movement for the three-day weekend you’re enjoying.
Have a good one. And thanks for a terrific summer.