By the end of this section, you will be able to:
People do not obtain utility just from products they purchase. They also obtain utility from leisure time. Leisure time is time not spent at work. The decision-making process of a utility-maximizing household applies to what quantity of hours to work in much the same way that it applies to purchases of goods and services. Choices made along the labor-leisure budget constraint, as wages shift, provide the logical underpinning for the labor supply curve. The discussion also offers some insights about the range of possible reactions when people receive higher wages, and specifically about the claim that if people are paid higher wages, they will work a greater quantity of hours - assuming that they have a say in the matter.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. workers averaged 38.6 hours per week on the job in 2014. This average includes part-time workers; for full-time workers only, the average was 42.5 hours per week. Table 6.6 shows that more than half of all workers are on the job 35 to 48 hours per week, but significant proportions work more or less than this amount.
Table 6.7 breaks down the average hourly compensation received by private industry workers, including wages and benefits. Wages and salaries are about three-quarters of total compensation received by workers; the rest is in the form of health insurance, vacation pay, and other benefits. The compensation workers receive differs for many reasons, including experience, education, skill, talent, membership in a labor union, and the presence of discrimination against certain groups in the labor market. Issues surrounding the inequality of incomes in a market-oriented economy are explored in the chapters on Poverty and Economic Inequality and Issues in Labor Markets: Unions, Discrimination, Immigration.
|Hours Worked per Week||Number of Workers||Percentage of Workforce|
|1–14 hours||6.9 million||5.0%|
|15–34 hours||27.6 million||20.1%|
|35–40 hours||68.5 million||49.9%|
|41–48 hours||11.9 million||8.6%|
|49–59 hours||13.3 million||9.6%|
|60 hours and over||9.3 million||6.8%|
Table 6.6 Persons at Work, by Average Hours Worked per Week in 2013 (Total number of workers: 137.7 million)
|Compensation, Wage, Salary, and Benefits||$30.92 per hour|
|Wages and Salaries||$20.92|
|Retirement and Savings||$1.24|
Table 6.7 Hourly Compensation: Wages, Benefits, and Taxes in 2014