This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Saturday, January 1, 1994

30 hour work week

There was a time, not long ago, that whenever I went on vacation, I immediately got sick. There are, I imagine, both physiological and psychological reasons for that.

When you travel, you get exposed to a larger germ pool. Psychologically, the reason you're on a vacation in the first place is because you're running out of reserves. Add the two together, and you may as well tape a little shingle of cardboard outside your sinuses, visible only to malicious microorganisms: "Kick me."

Well, this time, I'm pleased to report, my family vacation was surprisingly healthy. Despite a regional heat index (temperature plus humidity) of approximately 150 degrees, and one incident when we had to strip Perry (our four month old) down to diapers and sprinkle him with ice water, we all managed to have a very interesting and completely illness-free time. My wife and I have both long had an itch to see New England, and we finally got a chance to scratch it.

This time, I got sick when I got back.

It was no biggie, mind, just a summer flu that put me flat out for about three days. But while I was lying around, I got to thinking about our whole pattern of work, play, and worker health in the United States.

I've thought for a long time that much of what's wrong with America has a relatively easy fix. Put simply, I think it's time for us to adopt the 30 hour work week.

This idea isn't as wild as you may imagine. In fact, it has already garnered a great deal of international support. Unions in England, France, Italy, the United States, and even West Germany have all discussed and endorsed it.

Their reasons vary. The French and Germans (according to a piece in the October 27, 1993 issue of the Washington Post) argue that it would enable them to put more people to work at little increase in cost. Incidentally, that was exactly the same line of logic used here in the United States during the Depression, when we went from a six to a five day work week, then found it impossible -- and unnecessary -- to go back.

Some of the West German and American supporters took what may first appear a surprising stance: the 30 hour work week would both increase productivity and provide more leisure time for shopping.

According to an article in the January, 1994 issue of Managers Magazine, numerous studies have demonstrated that reducing both the work week and the work day quite frequently result in big increases in productivity. Why? The article's author suggests some oft-observed realities: "less stress, less absenteeism, less turnover, less personal business during work hours, and lower costs."

Despite all of the above, the truth is that more Americans are working LONGER hours each week than they have in fifty years. Add to this the creeping cost of housing, and you have a situation where grown-ups just don't have much time to spend raising their children. Or surely, not enough time.

Imagine making a living salary, or even enough to support house payments, in 30 hours a week. For a couple, that would free up at least 10 hours per parent per week. As I have noted here before, a national PTA study several years ago found that the average mother spends less than half an hour per day of direct time with each child; fathers, less than 15 minutes. Imagine re-investing that 10 hours of former work time in something of even greater value.

I believe this change will happen, perhaps as soon as the next ten years. And at first, no doubt, the 30 hour work week will prove more expensive: more people, more benefits, for the same total number of "man-hours."

But in very short order, I am confident that we Americans will again demonstrate our astonishing capacity for increased productivity, making the shorter work week a successful investment in both the economic and the cultural infrastructure of our nation.

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