Hours of Work: Moving Beyond Gridlock[*]

 We declare that the limitation of the working day is a preliminary condition without which all further attempts at improvement and emancipation must prove abortive . . .

Resolution adopted by the Congress of the International Working Men's Association, September 1866.
The dilemma that both over-employment and under-employment are increasing at the same time is an urgent concern of public policy. In "Earnings Inequality and the Distribution of Working Time in Canada," Morrisette, Myles and Picot concluded that the rising polarization in hours worked explains much of the increasing earnings inequality. At the bottom of the earnings scale, the polarization of work time reflects increasingly unstable employment patterns. At the top of the scale, it reflects the lengthening of annual hours worked by more highly-paid, full-time workers.

Various explanations have been offered for the polarization of work time. According to one explanation, a widening skills gap leaves some people behind even while high-skilled jobs go unfilled. Another account sees technology as destroying jobs faster than it can create new ones. Yet another blames the gap on slow economic growth.

This paper contends that the polarization of work time is not simply a result of slow economic growth, rapid and unassimilated technological change, or disparities in skill -- it is the main source of those difficulties. The maldistribution of work time remains the greatest obstacle to economic and social progress. Besides providing a policy direction that could achieve greater social equity, the redistribution of work time may offer the best way to recast economic policy issues to make them more amenable to decision making and policy making.