Political gridlock in Washington D.C. over the past several years has turned a lot of people’s opinion of government for the worse. For a good portion of Obama’s presidency, unwillingness to cooperate or negotiate across the aisle has led to little getting done, and that has led to growing cynicism among the voting public in regard to the federal government. If you had asked someone what a libertarian’s ideals were a couple of decades ago, for example, most people may not have known. Now, those feelings are more or less mainstream.
While there are a good number of reasons the government has reached new levels of disfunction, at the end of the day, the public is left watching their elected representatives (getting paid with their tax dollars) sit back and get nothing done. This is where the animosity and resentment starts to fester – if you went to your job and didn’t produce any kind of result or output, you would probably be fired.
With that in mind, it’s understandable why people have soured on their government. But perhaps we’re jumping the gun in assuming that our representatives – those making up the House of Representatives and the Senate – are lazy do-nothings? After all, they have incredibly important jobs, and they must be doing something worthwhile with their time.
A lot of people may feel that despite the importance, stress, and the long hours commonly associated with elected positions, they themselves actually work harder and longer.
Is that true? Let’s look at the numbers.
To get things started, we can look at the Congressional work calendar that was released a short time ago. As the calendar shows, and a humorous Huffington Post headline clearly lays out, the House of Representatives will average only two-day workweeks in D.C. throughout 2016. That’s 111 work days that those individuals are expected to be in D.C., grinding away. If we calculate that out, based on a 8-hour work day, that comes to 888 hours in 2016.
Now, let’s compare those figures to data we have from the average American worker. According to a Gallup poll released last year, the average worker in the United States puts in 47 hours a week on the job. That’s well over 2,000 hours per year, if we run the numbers, excluding holidays, vacations, etc.
If we simply use those figures to try and determine whether or not the American people are getting their money’s worth from their representatives on Capitol Hill, it’s pretty clear that the average American family can, and should, be griping. Just from those numbers, the average worker is putting in triple the hours as members of the House.
But – and it’s a pretty big ‘but’ – that’s not the whole story.
That calendar includes the official ‘work days’ for representatives tallying up to the aforementioned 888 hours next year. But members of Congress are truthfully far, far busier – a report from Society for Human Resource Management and the Congressional Management Foundation pegs the average workweek at roughly 70 hours.
“On average, House members spend 35 percent of a typical week on legislative/policy work when Congress was in Washington, D.C., 32 percent on constituent services work when in the district, and 17-18 percent on political/campaign work at all times,” a press release accompanying the report reads.
“Members reported reducing their work hours on average to 59 hours a week during district work periods or congressional recesses.”
Clearly, these people are putting in the hours. We’re just not seeing the results, in many cases.
In any case, Americans do have a right to be a bit miffed about how much they’re working. We work considerably more than other Western nations, especially in Europe. But we also fall far short of the number of hours workers in Asian countries like Singapore put in on an annual basis, per Business Insider’s calculations.
Seeing how little Congress has been able to get done as of late compounds those feelings of resentment, and rightfully so. But when we really dig down into it, it may be unfair to say that our representatives are lazy, or are simply getting a free ride on the public’s dime. You can bet that there is some of that going on, but by and large, it’s probably a safe assumption that the people in government are there because they want to improve society – despite some paving a way to a cushy job on K Street.
Americans work hard. There’s no denying that. And that extends to our elected officials. The problem is that we’re not seeing the hours put in by our representatives producing output of the quality and quantity we need.