How the Unemployed Spent Their Time in 2009

The American Time Use Survey for 2009 is out. Comparing its results-at a business-cycle trough-to those for 2007 (roughly a cyclical peak) allows for the first resolution of a fundamental question in time allocation/labor supply and macroeconomics: What do people do with their time when aggregate labor demand drops?

Some macroeconomists have constructed beautiful models arguing that much of the reduced market time can be shifted to producing things at home-to household production (child care, food preparation, shopping, home repairs, etc.) that would otherwise have been purchased. WRONG! In this recession, average work time (including school) dropped by 15 minutes a day. Of this drop, 6 minutes went to additional sleeping; and another 6 minutes went to additional TV-watching. The average American actually spent 2 minutes less on household production. The recession didn’t shift work from market to home activities that we think of as productive; the drop in market work went into activities that, at least at the margin, most of us would view as unproductive.

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  1. Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team says:

    It is a fantasy to become so successful, one can retire before the age of 30.

    Stress and finances are for the insecure and small minded. Tell the MAN where he can stick that job. Now its MY TIME! I do what I like, whenever I like. I wake at 11 am, go to bed at 3am, or go on 3 month trips abroad. But unfortunately most of waking daylight hours are nonproductively spent in front of the television.

    This economy is making that fantasy a reality….except for the success and money part.

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  2. A Mack says:

    Don’t out-of-work folks spend time looking for work? That 6 minutes of extra TV watching at home pales when compared to the multiple minutes people spend surfing the Web at work.

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  3. AaronS says:

    As one of the unemployed, let me address your comments….

    I lost my job with JPMorgan Chase due to a massive layoff. Though I am deeply appreciative of the unemployment benefits I received (for the first time in my life), I can tell you that it is a two-edged sword.

    Very simply, you are paid just enough to “not settle” for some menial, part-time job. After all, why work half the week when you can make the same amount (or more!) by collecting unemployment benefits?

    Alas, you are paid too little to pay your bills, etc., which ensures that–at least in very hard times like these–there is a good chance your credit is damaged.

    HOWEVER, if you decide to work part-time to supplement your unemployment so that you can pay bills, etc., you are expected to report how much you make…and that amount is taken from your unemployment benefits–which ensures that it is very difficult to make more than the amount you are allotted for unemployment.

    No wonder there is welfare fraud! I reported every penny I earned, but I can tell you that I can understand why many do not.

    Then there is one of the most pernicious things of all: Many companies do not hire UNEMPLOYED people! If you want to change jobs, you better be sure you have a job already. Companies often have the mistaken belief that if an applicant is without a job, then the applicant must have been terminated for some cause. Of course, in our current economic environment, lots of WONDERFUL workers (myself included) lost their jobs as entire divisions were shuttered. Truly this is kicking a person while they are down.

    So, do I watch a bit more TV? Do I read more? Am I working on the next great American novel? Do I spend a lot more time with my children? Well, yes–yes, I do!

    When you apply for literally HUNDREDS of jobs and never receive an interview, there are worse things I could do–perhaps rob a bank? extort some big executive? commit suicide?

    Tell you what: Fix unemployment so that it is worthwhile for people to take part-time jobs–or jobs that are far beneath their capabilities–and you’ll find that the unemployed quickly fill in the empty spaces in order to supplement their incomes.

    Oh, and make it against the law to discriminate against those who do not have jobs (with the understanding that people who have been fired for “cause” can be excluded).

    We’re not lazy, Daniel. We simply have been placed in a corner. Not all of us can rebound as effectively as our peers. Not all of us have great marketing or entrepreneurial skills. We simply are good folks who make good employees…who have been dealt a bad hand for now. What you view as “unproductive” may simply be all that we can do under the circumstances.

    I DID get the yard landscaped–finally. Does that count?

    Thanks for letting me tell you about it.

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  4. Lord says:

    I am not surprised. Inertia makes it easier to continue working when working and to continue resting when resting. Without the impetus of work, people remain at rest. Domestic activities have such low value that even the feeling of accomplishment from their completion can’t overcome the grind of doing them. That”s why they are called chores and not hobbies.

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  5. Ben D says:

    15 minutes, the largest number reported here, is barely 1% of a 24 hr day. Does this data really have that level of accuracy? I certainly don’t track my activities to that level of detail.

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  6. B. says:

    Interesting! I did not find this to be the case for myself. I am having a productive recession (starting December ’09). I enrolled myself in free training and interned without pay so that future employers would not think I was “lazy” for losing my job. Most of my free time is spent shopping and preparing food. This means washing, peeling, cutting vegetables and time over the stove. More time cooking means more time cleaning. I wash a lot of dishes and scrub a lot of floors. A tip for all of you out there who are cooking and cleaning on your own. You can use baking soda and vinegar to clean. Much cheaper, just as effective as household products, and probably safer. And to everyone out there who is employed and thinks I should be working because I am having too much “fun,” I am applying for every job that may be a fit for my qualification, skills, education, and age. :-)

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  7. Astarrh says:

    It’s true. I work a part time job. I usually get alot more done on the days I have to get up and go to work as opposed to the days where I sleep in all morning, roll out of bed and play video games.

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  8. Harry says:

    It’s interesting that the stereotypical view of the unemployed–that they spend all day lounging around in a bathrobe watching bad tv and drinking milk out of the carton–seems to have been proven correct. Once again, common sense>macroeconomics

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