Back in the 1960s, people had this wild-eyed idea that the increased productivity made possible by newfangled technologies like microminiaturization and automation should result in a shorter work week. I know, right? Bunch of hippies. Just didn't want to work so they could smoke dope all day. Well, apparently flower power never died in New Hampshire, because the communards who run that state are trying implement something called a "Work Share," according to National "Pravda" Radio:

At the worst point in the recession, New Hampshire had lost more than 40 thousand jobs. People who might have been with the same company for ten even twenty years found themselves without work….

Employment Security Commissioner Tara Reardon wanted to offer companies another option and she found it in Work Share. The idea has been used elsewhere for more than two decades. It creates a middle ground between full time employment and no job at all.

Let’s say for example that that the company cuts a production line back to three days a week. Reardon says workers would get two pay checks. "They’re going to get three days of regular pay, two days of unemployment benefits, and the plan can be for up to 26 weeks long."

There are several advantages. The employer holds on to trained people. Workers aren’t divided into winners and losers, and in most cases, there’s less of a hit on the state’s unemployment fund.

Turns out this isn't even unique! Those hippies in Missouri tried it first; they've had a Work Share since 1987:

Amy Susan with the Missouri Department of Labor says the recession put the program to the test and it worked.

During the past two years, the program has helped some 37 thousand Missouri residents.

Last spring, the Sunnen Corporation, a St. Louis-based manufacturer, enrolled about 300 employees, from office clerks to machinists. They had cut back to a four-day work week. Human Resources Manager, Lee Holmes, says some workers could have squeaked by on the reduced pay, but others could not….

Whatever happened to the days when Missourians voted 3 to 1 for George W. Bush? Well, at least those slackers are getting a pay cut! That's a relief. But naturally, there are these tenured radicals who want to take away our freedom to work 60 hours a week:

Whatever its limits, the Work Share concept takes government policy into a key aspect of the labor market, the length of the work week. Boston College sociologist, Juliet Schor, says more people working fewer hours might not be just a good idea, it might be the only way for the economy to create enough jobs on the other side of the recession…

Schor says long hours are something that define the U-S economy. Each year, the typical American works at least a couple of hundred hours more than their counterparts in other industrialized nations. She argues that if American employers offered more free time rather than a higher paycheck, they would find many takers.

But Schor says those companies that offer health insurance and other benefits face a strong disincentive to taking that approach.

SCHOR: A lot of benefits are paid on a per person basis. So what they like to do is hire fewer people and work them for longer hours. It’s part of why we have job scarcity in this country.

Schor notes that if you look at comparable economies, while it doesn’t hold true everywhere, there’s a strong correlation between lower health care costs for employers and a shorter work week.

A minor issue like health care is just one of the challenges for the labor market but this all raises the possibility. If the idea of more people sharing the same amount of work makes sense when the economy heads down, maybe it also makes sense when the economy heads up.

Well, let's just hope that doesn't happen, right? Because then people might start spending time with their families and working on neighborhood projects, maybe even getting more education and job training. And you know what that leads to, right? I just hope you don't listen to the whole NPR story. That propaganda will just make you start a community garden or something.

Jeremy Adam Smith


Jeremy Adam Smith

Jeremy Adam Smith is the editor who helped launch He's the author of The Daddy Shift (Beacon Press, June 2009); co-editor of The Compassionate Instinct (W.W. Norton

Things I share: Mainly babysitting with other parents! I also share all the transportation I can, through bikes and buses and trains and carpooling.