The hardest working people in America

A person works typing at a computer

Hard work has always been part and parcel to the American Dream. Per the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development, the United States is ranked 14th among the major industrial nations for the number of annual hours worked—two ranks above the OECD average, ahead of Japan, the UK, Germany, and Australia.

These extended hours, coupled with advances in technology, have helped fuel broad economic growth. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, multifactor productivity—a measure of national economic performance and its efficiency—is more than twice today what it was in 1987 and more than seven times 1950’s numbers.

According to data from the U.S. Census, despite a sharp drop-off after the Great Recession, average weekly work hours have been steadily increasing since 2010. Longer hours have corresponded with an increase in average commute times, suggesting that Americans are increasingly willing to travel farther to work longer. Considering the current conversation around whether emailing while commuting constitutes work, these numbers have drawn some to ask if Americans have a healthy work-life balance.

Two charts. One shows hours worked per week from 2005-2017 (an overall trend of increase since 2010) and the other shows minutes of work commute per day (an increasing pattern since 2009)

To better understand how hard Americans work across the country, researchers at Haven Life analyzed the most recently updated U.S. Census data for 2017. Rather than only looking at “work hours” per week for each city, Haven Life analysts also factored in commute times to get a better estimate of the total work-related time each city’s residents are putting in. Taking commute times into account, Haven Life identified 12 cities whose combined total working and commuting hours exceed 46 hours per week. Here’s what else they found:

Takeaways

  • Across the major cities in the U.S., the total time people spend working and commuting each week ranges from a low of 34.7 hours in Provo, Utah to a high of almost 47 hours in Walnut Creek, California. The national average is 43.3 hours per week (38.8 working hours and 4.5 commuting hours), according to data from the 2017 American Community Survey.
  • Surprisingly, early rising cities don’t necessarily work longer hours. There is no significant correlation between the proportion of the population leaving for work before 7:00 AM and total working/commuting hours.
  • Working hard pays off. Cities whose residents put in more time working and commuting each week are more likely to have higher median incomes. The analysis indicates a positive correlation between total working/commuting hours and median household income.
  • There is a slight negative correlation between the unemployment rate and total working/commuting hours, suggesting that people in cities with higher unemployment are more likely to work fewer hours.
  • Communities that are “bedroom communities,” or communities where a large percentage of the employed population works in a nearby city, are more likely to leave for work earlier and have longer commute times.

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The hardest working cities

New York City cityscape on a sunny day

Photo Credit: Andriy Kravchenko / Alamy Stock Photo

12. New York, New York

  • Total time (working + commuting): 46.0 hours per week
  • Working time: 39.0 hours per week
  • Commuting time: 7.0 hours per week
  • Percentage of population leaving for work before 7AM: 22.2%
  • Median household income: $60,879
  • Unemployment rate: 6.4%

It should be no surprise that the “City that Never Sleeps” would have some of the hardest working citizens. The nation’s hub for finance, entertainment, media, and commerce, New York City reports 46 combined commuting and working hours per week for its residents. This may be complicated by the fact that public transportation is the primary mode of transportation for most New Yorkers. This lead to nearly a third of all New Yorkers leaving for work before 7 AM and the average New Yorker tallying 4.5 hours of commuting time per week.

Skyline of Exchange Place at Jersey City, New Jersey, USA.

11. Jersey City, New Jersey

  • Total time (working + commuting): 46.0 hours per week
  • Working time: 39.9 hours per week
  • Commuting time: 6.1 hours per week
  • Percentage of population leaving for work before 7AM: 20.1%
  • Median household income: $66,264
  • Unemployment rate: 5.3%

It is not just expensive to live in New York City; it is expensive to live anywhere in the New York metropolitan area. With a median household income slightly above the national average of $60,336 and an unemployment rate one percentage point above the rest of the United States, many may find it hard to make ends meet in this North New Jersey city. Major financial firms such as UBS, Goldman Sachs, Chase, Citibank, and Merrill Lynch all hold court on the Jersey City shore. The high commuting time, however, suggests that many Jersey City residents regularly commute to the Big City.

Dusk over Telegraph Hill, Alcatraz Island and San Francisco Bay from the Financial District.

Photo Credit: Yuval Helfman / Alamy Stock Photo

10. San Francisco, California

  • Total time (working + commuting): 46.0 hours per week
  • Working time: 40.4 hours per week
  • Commuting time: 5.6 hours per week
  • Percentage of population leaving for work before 7AM: 18%
  • Median household income: $110,816
  • Unemployment rate: 3.8%

One of the most expensive cities in North America, San Francisco can be a difficult city to live in. This is due in part to the tech job boom happening in the city and in adjacent Silicon Valley. The seventh largest urban economy in the nation by gross domestic product, San Francisco has become the hub of the “new economy,” with Apple, Google, Facebook, and Twitter all having headquarters in the San Francisco metropolitan area. With many people living in the city and commuting south for work—largely in an industry that’s notorious for long hours— it’s not surprising that San Francisco is high on the list.

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Washington DC panorama near Potomac River. A view on bridges across the river and Alexandria, Virginia.

Photo Credit: Andrei Medvedev / Alamy Stock Photo

9. Alexandria, Virginia

  • Total time (working + commuting): 46.0 hours per week
  • Working time: 40.7 hours per week
  • Commuting time: 5.3 hours per week
  • Percentage of population leaving for work before 7AM: 24.4%
  • Median household income: $100,530
  • Unemployment rate: 3.3%

Like much of Northern Virginia, the economy of Alexandria is based on the federal government. This encourages high wages, but also long days at work. With a daily commute in excess of an hour and with a quarter of the city’s workers leaving for work before 7 AM, Alexandria is a major commuter hub for Washington. Most of Alexandria’s employment is in the management, business, and financial sector.

Fishers, Indiana, train station

Photo Credit: Steve Gass / Alamy Stock Photo

8. Fishers, Indiana

  • Total time (working + commuting): 46.0 hours per week
  • Working time: 41.7 hours per week
  • Commuting time: 4.3 hours per week
  • Percentage of population leaving for work before 7AM: 15.1%
  • Median household income: $113,560
  • Unemployment rate: 3.4%

The youngest city on this list, Fishers transitioned from a town to a city in 2015—a change that reflects the rapid growth of this Indianapolis suburb. Its average commute time of 4.3 hours per week suggests that the city is a commuter hub for neighboring Indianapolis. Fishers largest employer is Navient, a servicer and collector of student loans, and Freedom Mortgage. Fishers is also a part of the Indianapolis metropolitan area, where trade and transportation is the primary industry.

suburbs in San Ramon California showing urban sprawl and million dollar houses and homes below Mount Diablo

Photo Credit: Brad Perks Lightscapes / Alamy Stock Photo

7. San Ramon, California

  • Total time (working + commuting): 46.2 hours per week
  • Working time: 39.1 hours per week
  • Commuting time: 7.1 hours per week
  • Percentage of population leaving for work before 7AM: 21.4%
  • Median household income: $161,870
  • Unemployment rate: 2.9%

A part of the San Francisco metropolitan area, San Ramon has one of the lowest unemployment rates of the cities on this list, but also one of the longest commutes. The home of Chevron, 24-Hour Fitness, the west coast headquarters of AT&T, as well as regional offices for UPS, Toyota, and GE Global Research, the city has a large manufacturing base. A significant part of the San Ramon workforce are commuters to San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

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Atascocita, Texas- Aerial View with lake Houston

Photo Credit: dia karanouh / Alamy Stock Photo

6. Atascocita, Texas

  • Total time (working + commuting): 46.3 hours per week
  • Working time: 40.5 hours per week
  • Commuting time: 5.8 hours per week
  • Percentage of population leaving for work before 7AM: 51.3%
  • Median household income: $99,789
  • Unemployment rate: 5.3%

A suburb of Houston, Atascocita has been named one of the “Best Places to Retire” by U.S. News & World Report, citing the large number of recreational services. ‘Trade, transportation, and utilities’ and ‘professional and business services’ are the two leading industries in the Houston metropolitan area. However, Atascocita’s affluence—with a median household income of approximately $100,000—suggests that many low-wage earners would need to work longer hours to afford to live in the community. Coupled with more than half of the city’s workers leaving for work before 7 AM and the long commute time, many of Atascocita’s residents travel to Houston for work.

Pumping unit in Midland County, Texas

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5. Odessa, Texas

  • Total time (working + commuting): 46.3 hours per week
  • Working time: 42.9 hours per week
  • Commuting time: 3.4 hours per week
  • Percentage of population leaving for work before 7AM: 29.7%
  • Median household income: $58,919

Originally an oil town, Odessa has seen diversification efforts from energy to logistics in recent years, capitalizing on the city’s connection to the road and rail links in West Texas. This has led to Odessa becoming the home to distribution centers for Family Dollar and Coca-Cola, as well as new energy facilities, such as a coal pollution migration plant, a wind farm, and a new nuclear plant. With average weekly work hours in excess of 40 hours per week, and with more than a quarter of Odessa’s workers starting work before 7 AM, Odessa conveys the feeling of a hard-driving oil town.

Primary election day in North Bethesda, Maryland, USA

Photo Credit: Alan Kolnik / Alamy Stock Photo

4. Bethesda, Maryland

  • Total time (working + commuting): 46.4 hours per week
  • Working time: 41.5 hours per week
  • Commuting time: 4.9 hours per week
  • Percentage of population leaving for work before 7AM: 12.8%
  • Median household income: $166,380
  • Unemployment rate: 2.7%

A suburb of the nation’s capital, Bethesda is one of the top-earning communities and best-educated towns in the U.S. As expected from communities in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, the major employers in the area are government institutions such as the National Institutes of Health. Despite this, Bethesda is also home to many private corporations, with HMSHost, Lockheed Martin, AREVA, Honest Tea, and RLJ Companies all having a presence there. Reflective of its environment, the city has higher-than-average wages, lower-than-average unemployment, and above-average hours worked.

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Windmills in Altamont Pass overlook Tracy, California

Photo Credit: Jon Whitney / Alamy Stock Photo

3. Tracy, California

  • Total time (working + commuting): 46.5 hours per week
  • Working time: 38.5 hours per week
  • Commuting time: 8.0 hours per week
  • Percentage of population leaving for work before 7AM: 46.4%
  • Median household income: $89,936
  • Unemployment rate: 4.0%

Another city in the San Francisco metropolitan area, Tracy largely host commuters to Silicon Valley and to San Francisco. However, being over 60 miles away, Tracy boasts the longest average commute time of any city in the country at 8 hours per week, or over an hour and a half per day. As with most San Francisco-adjacent cities, rising housing costs are likely forcing lower-paid workers to either move or work longer hours to get by.

Rosslyn, Arlington, Virginia, USA city skyline on the Potomac River.

Photo Credit: Sean Pavone / Alamy Stock Photo

2. Arlington, Virginia

  • Total time (working + commuting): 46.7 hours per week
  • Working time: 41.8 hours per week
  • Commuting time: 4.9 hours per week
  • Percentage of population leaving for work before 7AM: 16.3%
  • Median household income: $117,237
  • Unemployment rate: 2.5%

Formerly a part of the District of Columbia, Arlington is the home of the Pentagon, the Reagan National Airport, Arlington National Cemetery, DARPA, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the TSA, and many other offices. However, many of its residents regularly commute to D.C. As with most Washington, D.C. metropolitan area communities, Arlington has long working hours, a high median household income, and low unemployment.

Sunset from Mt Diablo Summit Looking West.

Photo Credit: Yuval Helfman / Alamy Stock Photo

1. Walnut Creek, California

  • Total time (working + commuting): 46.9 hours per week
  • Working time: 40.8 hours per week
  • Commuting time: 6.1 hours per week
  • Percentage of population leaving for work before 7AM: 31.2%
  • Median household income: $100,180
  • Unemployment rate: 6.7%

According to our analysis, the hardest working city in America is Walnut Creek, California. With well-above-average working hours and commuting hours, residents of this San Francisco suburb put in almost 47 hours of work-related time each week. Given its location, Walnut Creek is a popular commuter hub, providing its residents with access to neighboring cities such as Sacramento, Oakland, San Jose, and San Francisco. However, as more people move out of the city in search of more affordable housing, traffic has suffered leading to ever-longer commutes.

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Methodology

The data used in this analysis is from the U.S. Census Bureau 2017 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates. Mean weekly commuting time for each city was derived from its mean one-way commuting time assuming two trips per day done five days per week. The total weekly working/commuting time is the sum of working time and commuting time. Cities were ordered by this combined total. In the event of a tie, working time was used to order cities. Only cities with times exceeding 46 hours per week were included in the final list.

Haven Life Insurance Agency LLC (Haven Life) analyzed this research for educational/informational purposes only. Haven Life is an online life insurance agency offering term life insurance issued by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company. Haven Life does not provide tax, legal, investment advice, and the information in the study should not be relied on as such. You should consult your own tax, legal, investment, and other advisors, as appropriate, before engaging in any transaction.

Haven Term is a Term Life Insurance Policy (ICC15DTC) issued by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual), Springfield, MA 01111 and offered exclusively through Haven Life Insurance Agency, LLC. Not all riders are available in all states. Our Agency license number in California is 0K71922 and in Arkansas, 100139527.

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