Are We Really Hard at Work?

by Mike Hunter


Americans outwork many of their foreign peers by hundreds of extra hours per year, a fact that sometimes intrudes into discussion of healthcare coverage as a workplace issue. Personal-finance website WalletHub conducted an in-depth analysis of 2016’s Hardest Working Cities in America to identify where Americans work the hardest, comparing the 116 largest cities across six key metrics that include “labor force participation rate,” “average hours worked per week” and “number of workers with multiple jobs.”

The report points out that our strong work ethic is, after all, what helped to build the world’s most powerful economy — a status that is likely to remain unchallenged. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we are 400 percent more productive today than in 1950 (although midcentury Americans worked nearly 205 hours more per year than we did in 2011).

Rapid technological growth that allowed us to increase automation and efficiency has been responsible for our productivity gains in recent decades, according to research by The Heritage Foundation (

Still, research cited by WalletHub shows we work 20 percent more hours yet are still less productive than our European peers. “America’s obsession with higher output has indeed landed our nation at the top of the global food chain, but it’s also led to our image as workaholic robots, working longer days, taking fewer vacations and retiring much later,” it notes, pointing out that only one in five Americans even step out for lunch these days, while Spaniards enjoy up to three-hour midday breaks to eat, nap and smell the rosas, and other countries follow a similar daily ritual of R&R.

Loukas Karabarbounis, associate professor of Economics and Public Policy Scholar at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, explains there are three reasons Americans work so much more than their European counterparts: “Taxes on labor income are lower in the U.S., value of non-market time is higher in Europe where family ties are stronger, and regulation of hours worked is more stringent in Europe.”

The report includes an analytical view of this phenomenon by other thought leaders at top university business schools. Addressing productivity only, Michael H. LeRoy, a professor in the School of Labor & Employment Relations & College of Law at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, observes, “Worker productivity falls after 50 hours a week. When a worker exceeds 55 hours a week, he or she produces about the same as someone who works 70 hours a week, according to a recent Stanford study. In other words, when fatigue is reached, nothing is accomplished — only time accumulates, not productivity.” And Gerald Friedman, professor of Economics at University of Massachusetts at Amherst, says, “I think that in many cases, productivity falls because workers are stressed, come to work sick, and are preoccupied with the home responsibilities that they are neglecting while working late.”

Greater Phoenix’s ‘Hardest-Working Cities’

In the top 15 Hardest-Working Cities, Greater Phoenix is represented by three of its cities: Scottsdale, Gilbert and Chandler. Below are the rankings of each of them, together with the top metrics.

Scottsdale ranks 6th Hardest-Working City 

3rd – Average Hours Worked per Week
24th – Labor Force Participation Rate
27th – Volunteer Hours per Resident

Gilbert ranks 11th Hardest-Working City 

7th – Labor Force Participation Rate
15th – Average Hours Worked per Week
21st – Commute Time

Chandler ranks 15th Hardest-Working City 

6th – Labor Force Participation Rate
23rd – Average Hours Worked per Week
27th – Volunteer Hours per Resident

Cities chosen for the study were among those identified as America’s most populated cities. Other Arizona cities in this study were Mesa (82nd), Phoenix (52nd) and Tucson (110th).

Top 10 Hardest-Working Cities
of the 116 cities identified as “most populated”

1 Anchorage, Alaska
2 Virginia Beach, Va.
3 Plano, Texas
4 Sioux Falls, S.D.
5 Irving, Texas
6 Scottsdale, Ariz.
7 San Francisco, Calif.
8 Cheyenne, Wyo.
9 Washington, D.C.
10 Charlotte, N.C.

Bottom 10 Hardest-Working Cities
of the 116 cities identified as “most populated”

107 Fresno, Calif.
108 Cleveland, Ohio
109 Toleda, Ohio
110 Tucson, Ariz.
111 Columbia, S.C.
112 Buffalo, N.Y.
113 San Bernardino, Calif.
114 Providence, R.I.
115 Detroit, Mich.
116 Burlington, Vt.

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