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Sunday, January 18, 2004 - Page updated at 01:44 A.M.

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Job Market
40-hour week eludes millions of workers

By Harry Wessel
The Orlando Sentinel

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ORLANDO, Fla. — Janet Gartland loves her job but not the hours. A logistics coordinator with Siemens Westinghouse Power in Orlando, she regularly puts in 11- and 12-hour days, which translates into 55- to 60-hour weeks.

Working that many hours week after week, "you tend to be more irritable, more frustrated," said Gartland, who has been with Siemens for eight years. "Things that don't normally bother you, bother you. You're on the edge all the time."

She's not complaining. Gartland prefers being on edge to being bored, and her "multitasking, fast-paced" job is anything but boring.

Nevertheless, she said, "I'd love to go to an eight-hour day."

So would millions of other full-time workers, for whom the 40-hour workweek is a seldom-to-never occurrence.

"Americans work more hours by far than any other workers in the world," said Benjamin Balak, who teaches economic history at Rollins College in Florida. "If you want to be a high-income wage earner, you have to work like a dog. If you want leisure in today's economy, you'll be stuck in a low-income job. It's income or leisure."

For many if not most professionals today, Balak said, working in excess of 40 hours a week "is expected. You don't have an option."

Recent government surveys appear to contradict Balak. They show the amount of weekly hours put in by full-time workers has remained virtually unchanged since the mid-1970s — 43 hours then, 42.9 hours now.

But there is more to it than meets the eye because the surveys include both salaried and hourly workers. An unpublished U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics study, for example, finds that those in administrative, managerial and executive occupations spent an average of 45 hours at work each week in 2002.

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Hourly workers, who must by law be paid time-and-a-half for overtime, tend to work about 40 hours a week, just as they did in the '70s. It's among the growing number of salaried workers — who aren't eligible for overtime — where the extra hours largely are being worked.

Currently, about 50 million U.S. employees are not eligible for overtime; about 71 million are eligible.

The 65-year-old Fair Labor Standards Act, which established the 40-hour workweek as a national norm, did so largely by requiring companies to pay employees at least time-and-a-half when workers clocked more than 40 weekly hours.

The law protected production and nonsupervisory workers, not managers or professionals. With the subsequent decline in manufacturing jobs, the percentage of workers eligible for overtime pay has dropped.

Another reason the government's published data may be misleading is that they "only measure hours on the job," said Randy Ilg, an economist with the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Washington. The data do not include night and weekend hours spent handling work-related e-mails, phone calls and paperwork from home — homework made even easier with the widespread use of laptop computers and cellphones.

"The number of professionals and managers is growing," Ilg said. "The percentage of people working off the clock is growing."

There is another shift the government's hours-worked surveys do not take into account: the increased number of dual-income households.

"If you look at family work hours, you see really dramatic changes," said Jared Bernstein, senior economist with the Economic Policy Institute in Washington. "Over the last 30 years, middle-income couples with kids have added an average of 20 weeks of work, the equivalent of five more months a year."

In other words, fathers who worked a lot of hours before are still working a lot of hours. But mothers who used to stay at home or work part time are now far more likely to be working full time, as well.

A 1997 survey by the nonprofit Families and Work Institute found that employed fathers with children worked an average of 50.9 hours a week, while employed mothers with children worked an average of 41.4 hours a week.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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