The Advantage of Being a Little Underemployed
To realize how outdated the five-day, 40-hour workweek is, you have to know where it came from.
Before 1900 the average American worker worked more than 60 hours a week. A standard schedule was ten-hour days, six days a week. The only structural limits to working were lighting and religion. You stopped working when it was too dark to see or to go to church. It was exhausting. It was often fatal.
Unions helped turn this around. In 1916, railroad unions demanded an eight-hour work day, largely because work after that point correlated with a rise in accidents and death. The railroads declined. So workers went on strike. America’s rail system nearly came to a halt.
This was during World War I, when transporting military equipment by rail was vital to national security. President Woodrow Wilson, desperate to get the trains moving, asked congress to write an eight-hour railroad work day into law. He told a joint session in 1916