This Is What the Un- and Underemployed Do with Their Spare Time

They end up spending about half their time doing leisure activities

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Much attention is given to a little figure reported monthly by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That, of course, would be the unemployment rate, that measure of the U.S. labor force looking for jobs but unable to find them, which has become perhaps the best known measure of the U.S. economy's health. A related (though unofficial) figure is the underemployment rate, the percentage of the labor force that includes those who have given up on finding a job and those that would like to work fulltime but have only found a parttime gig. Both are high as we come out of the recession (or begin our second leg of a double-dip recession, depending on one's assessment). That makes for a big chunk of the population that would like to be working more than it is now. What are all those people doing with their time?

A trio of economists looked into the question and have published their results (via the Freakonomics blog). Charted below are the percentages of forgone work time dedicated to various activities outside the labor market. In other words, this is what the underemployed or out of work are doing with the time they would otherwise spend at work if they could find a job or become fully employed. The researchers found that while the un- and underemployed are spending a lot of their extra time being productive around the house, about half of it is going to leisure activities. (Percentages in figure below do not add to 100 percent due to rounding.)

The largest slice of time goes to sleep. Overall, approximately 50 percent of the forgone labor hours goes to leisure, which includes sleeping, watching TV, and socializing with friends. Another 30 percent goes to "non-market work"--things like cleaning, cooking, and doing household repair work. The rest is divided among various other activities that include child care, education, and religious services. And a final 1 percent goes to trying to find a new job--which might strike some as low. Though, if they are as few jobs out there as some say there are, maybe it's not.

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