Americans Spend More Time Sleeping, Watching TV, Brewing Beer. Is Unemployment the Reason?

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The economy has obviously slowed down over the past few years. Despite how frantically busy life may seem, so has the average American, who is watching a little more TV, engaging in more leisure activities and hobbies, and catching a little more shuteye compared to a few years ago.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics just released its annual Time Use Survey for 2010, and much of the info is unsurprising:

*employed men work a little more than employed women (41 minutes more daily)

*far more women than men (cough! slackers) do housework on the average day (49% vs. 20%)

*the age group engaged in the most leisure activities is adults 75 and up (7.7 hours daily), while the group with the least leisure time is adults ages 35 to 44 (4.2 hours daily)

*far more people work on workdays (82%) than on weekends (35%)

Because much of this data changes very little from year to year, minor shifts in time use—a few minutes more here, a few less there—indicate fairly significant changes in behavior. And two of the most notable changes, according to the data, are that Americans are watching TV and sleeping more. In 2010, the average American spent two hours and 31 minutes watching TV, which is 5.4 minutes more than in 2007. The typical individual was also sleeping five more minutes a night in 2010 (8 hours, 23 minutes) compared to 2007.

What to make of this data? Many experts, including Princeton economist Alan Krueger, are blaming the economy. People may have hoped that newly unemployed or underemployed Americans would use their newfound time volunteering, exercising, or engaging in some other productive activity, but as Krueger told the Wall Street Journal:

“Last year continued to show the effects of the weak economy,” Mr. Krueger said. “The amount of time spent watching T.V. and other nonproductive activities remains extraordinarily high.”

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Krueger’s research indicates that sleep and TV occupy a ton of the unemployed individual’s time. If you’re out of work, you’re probably sleeping an hour longer than a person with a job, and a whopping one-quarter of your waking hours are spend sitting in front of the tube. Another study of the typical unemployed individual showed that while he spends 200 minutes a day watching TV, and just 40 minutes a day looking for work.

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USA Today leads its coverage of the new BLS survey by stating that more Americans are working on weekends, but I don’t see that in the data. In 2010, 35% of all workers worked on weekends; this includes people working at restaurants and retail stores, who are obviously needed on the job on weekends. That’s the same percentage working on weekends in 2006, according to the BLS. In 2007, 36% of Americans worked on weekends. There were probably more Americans working on weekends a few years back mostly because there were more jobs to be had—including those part-time gigs at restaurants, department stores, and such.

The release of the BLS survey happens to coincide with the publication of a NY Times story about the rising popularity of home brewing. Membership in the American Homebrewers Association has doubled over the last five years, and home brew supply stores report booming business. So what? Well, home brewing is one of the leisure activities occupying more time of those who are spending less time at work. Gary Glass, president of the Homebrewers Association, tells the Times:

“Part of the theory,” he said, “is that people have more time for hobbies when they are unemployed or underemployed.”

Brewing beer, or pretty much any hobby for that matter, is probably time better spent than sitting in front of the TV. And, like gardening and a few other hobbies, brewing beer comes with the bonus that by going DIY you’re saving money you would have otherwise spent on beer—or perhaps on some hot new gadget you saw advertised on TV.

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