Hours Worked Not Rising

David Leonhardt delivers some bad news from the jobs report:

Businesses may be getting more confident, but they are far from wildly optimistic. The average work week in the private sector remained 34.3 hours in April, unchanged over the past three months. If businesses were on the verge of a hiring boom, an increase in the work week would be a leading indicator (given that companies often give their existing employees more work before adding new ones).

Employers know more about their existing workers than about hypothetical future workers, it’s easier to scale back hours than to fire someone, and you can extend someone’s hours without incurring various overhead costs (health care, training, whatever) so this is generally a more attractive response to a small upswing in business activity. If you’ve got increased demand, your first response to offer your current employees more shifts. If the increase is sustained, or if your workers don’t want more shifts, then you hire new people. But we have plenty of “part time for economic reasons” folks in the workforce at the moment, so there shouldn’t be a problem extending hours as a prelude to new hiring.