In 2014 in Britain, think tanks started releasing a plan they think will help unemployment: capping the amount of hours a person can work a 21 hours per week. A noble idea, but one with obvious deficiencies. Yes, it’s an idea that would assuredly reduce unemployment — but the central question is “at what cost?”Though the idea is definitely worth discussing, scratching the surface of it reveals some of its most immediate flaws — some fixable, some not. This proposed plan would result in hourly wage earners and low wage salary workers earning roughly half their pay, in essence sharing their salary with a work partner. The think tank addresses this particular issue, stating that eventually prices would drop to accommodate the lower wages.
So, taken alone, this might be a worthwhile cost for a dramatic increase in workforce participation. However, hourly wage earners who were once earning a living wage may simply opt to get a second job — thus returning the system to the status quo, but with some arbitrary rules to overcome.
Secondly, productivity of the workforce would decrease, as sharing a job would require more time investment in internal communications and recruiting to facilitate this kind of baton passing — probably at the cost of some more immediately productive jobs.
Thirdly, some jobs can’t be divided cleanly, or bracketed nicely into hourly work requirements. For instance, to cover both points, a salesman working an individual account on a salary — is the account to be shared? Are the total number of accounts to be shared? What if the account requires an inconsistent time investment, such as 10 hours one week and 30 hours the next?
Thus, this initial idea faces its logistical limitations under close scrutiny. It’s possible laws could be passed to prevent people from having second jobs after their 21 hours — but already in this country we face a political demand from people who want to increase the minimum wage to the living wage at the cost to the amount of jobs and at costs to unemployment; and this plan is the opposite of that, trading higher wages for lower unemployment.
But this idea, which I’ve thought about before, has me thinking of a related idea I’ve often thought about. There’s another way, besides cutting hours for workers during society’s agreed upon working hours, that we could accomplish the same effect of doubling the amount of jobs — expand society’s agreed upon working hours.
Why is it, in this day an age, where some establishments are open 24 hours, that we don’t have a much greater push to establish a functioning nighttime society? If people are going to Taco Bell at 3 AM, why not a medium-end pizza chain? Why not a bank? Why not a retail outlet?