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Study: Americans working more and relaxing less

The average American worker puts in about 140 more hours on the job every year than he did two decades ago and has fewer paid days off, according to a study.

It all adds up to a major crimp on leisure time, say two economists for the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute, a liberal research group that gets financing from labor unions, foundations and corporations.

"Americans are starved for time," the study said. "Increasing numbers of people are finding themselves overworked, stressed out and heavily taxed by the joint demands of work and family life."

The study was written by Juliet Schor of Harvard University and Laura Leete-Guy of Case Western Reserve University.

The study found that full-time workers put in, on average, 138 hours more a year on the job in 1989 than they did in 1969.

The economists then looked at commuting time and found that people were spending more time getting to and from work. Figuring in the rise in work hours, commuting time and the decline in days off, the economists said Americans are spending 158 hours more each year on work _ or an extra month.

"The Japanese statements about Americans being lazy and not wanting to work are not based in fact," Leete-Guy said.

Paid time off _ vacations, holidays, sick leave and personal days _ declined about 15 percent in the 1980s, the study said. Americans had an average of 16.1 days off a year in 1989, down from 19.8 days in 1981, according to the study.

In most European countries, workers get paid vacations of at least five weeks, the study said.

The ongoing decline of real wages since 1973, coupled with the increased costs of health care and housing, are the major factors behind Americans' need to put in more hours, the study said. Part of the rise was caused by women taking on a bigger burden by working a greater fraction of the year.

Meanwhile, time spent on such chores as laundry and cleaning house didn't decrease enough to stem the loss in leisure time, the study said.

The recent trends in work and leisure are the direct reversal of the predictions that most experts made 30 years ago _ that automation, productivity growth and consumer satiation would cause a crisis of excess leisure time and its "attendant boredom and ennui," the study said.

"Instead, we have too little time, with its attendant social problems," the study said.

The study said the squeeze on leisure time has caused a dramatic shift in public attitudes. For the first time since surveys on time-income trade-offs have been taken, Americans are signaling a willingness to give up money if it means time away from their job.

A 1989 poll found nearly two-thirds would give up 13 percent of their paycheck for more free time, the study said, while 80 percent said they would prefer a slower career path if they could spend more time with their families.