Hours Worked Hits Historic Low: You Saw It Coming : Planet Money First you live the economy. Then the government reports it.

Hours Worked Hits Historic Low: You Saw It Coming

The lowest ever. source: Bureau of Labor Statistics hide caption

toggle caption
source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Viewed a certain way, the drop in the average American workweek looks small -- very, very small. In June, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, production and nonsupervisory workers spent one-tenth of an hour less on the job than they had in May. Six minutes? How big a deal is that? Here's how big:

It's "the lowest level on record for the series, which began in 1964," the BLS says.

Late last year, we started hearing from you folks about your hours being cut or your employers sending you out on furlough. At the time, the experience was so new that you couldn't find much record of it in the government stats. Now you can, and it's a scary sight. That average of six minutes a week reflects a nation of people who've been laid off, or pushed into part-time work, or lost a day's pay here or there, or can't pick up the overtime that they once used to cover their bills.

Harvard's Jeff Frankels writes that the length of the workweek is his favorite means of taking the economy's pulse. Frankels notes that total hours worked fell by .8 percent, "continuing the same rapid deterioration we have seen since last September, the month when Lehman Brothers failed and the recession worsened sharply."