NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

A European Solution for Unemployment: Work Less

November 12, 1997

The plans of some left-wing European politicians and union leaders to cut unemployment by reducing and capping the number of hours employees can work have many economists shaking their heads in disbelief. Manufacturing workers in major European countries already work fewer hours per week than comparable American workers, yet unemployment rates here are less than half what they are in Europe -- with the single exception of Britain.

U.S. manufacturing workers were on the job an average of 37.9 hours per week in 1996, earning an average of $17.74 an hour.

Here are some 1996 European manufacturing comparisons:

  • German workers only put in an average of 29 hours a week, but earn a whopping $31.87 average per hour.
  • The average French worker is on the job 31.7 hours a week, earning the equivalent of $19.34 an hour.
  • In Italy, the work week consists of 35 hours, with an average pay of $18.08 an hour.
  • A British worker will toil 35.6 hours a week, realizing $14.19 per hour.

Experts say that a few companies in Europe -- seeking more flexible schedules to reduce costs and improve productivity -- are already reducing employees' work weeks. But for a nation to mandate fewer hours -- without any reduction in pay -- with the goal of reducing unemployment is a self-defeating proposition. The notion is most popular among Italian and French leaders.

European companies already have trouble competing effectively in the global market, critics point out, and even some mainstream labor leaders believe a government-mandated system of shorter hours could actually cost jobs by increasing labor costs.

Source: John Tagliabue, "Buona Notte, Guten Tag: Europe's New Workdays," New York Times, November 12, 1997.


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