Most Americans Fail to Write Novel, Learn Italian in Spare Time

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Photo: 20th Century Fox

As terrifying as the employment numbers have been over the past two years, we have to admit that a part of us has been — don't read this next line, bosses — a teensy bit jealous of people who have been laid off. The ones with decent severance packages and money in their checking accounts, who had the foresight to prepare for such an event, of course, so in this fantasy, we're not technically us. But the point is, wouldn't it just be great to have some extra time? You could get cracking on that book idea. Learn to play guitar. Volunteer with homeless special-needs kids. Make the duck en croute from that effing cookbook you bought when Julie & Julia came out that you have literally not even cracked open, and not even feel guilty about eating it because obviously, you'd be exercising loads more now that you had been unshackled from your cubicle. Your ass would really look fantastic if you were unemployed. But while many people have this kind of fantasy, few actually live it. According to the American Time Use Survey released by the Labor Department yesterday, rising unemployment has indeed left many Americans with more spare time on their hands. However, most of them have done approximately jack with it.

From the WSJ:

Time spent in front of the television rose by 12 minutes, to two hours, 49 minutes a day in the two years through 2009. Sleep was the next big gainer, increasing by six minutes to eight hours, 40 minutes a day. The data also show what Americans aren't doing with their extra time: There was virtually no change between 2007 and 2009 in the time devoted to volunteering, religious activities, exercise or education.

Well ... sleeping and watching TV sounds kind of fun, too. Except it turns out people are really judgey about it.

In sum, time people might have used productively is instead being squandered, says University of Texas economist Daniel Hamermesh. "It's not like we're using the recession to build our skills — the skills are depreciating," says Mr. Hamermesh. "It's a waste."

Ouch. That's harsh, Hamermesh. Good thing he's not talking about us, or we would feel really bad about ourselves. Now, if you'll excuse us, please, we really don't have anymore time to fritter away here, we have a job to do.

What Would You Do With an Extra Hour? [WSJ]
American Time Use Survey Summary [BLS]