Hardest-working cities in America: Who puts in the longest hours?

March 4, 2024

According to a recent study conducted by WalletHub, the average U.S. worker logs 1,811 hours on the job per yearsignificantly outpacing their counterparts in Japan, the United Kingdom, and Germany.

This dedication to the grind is especially pronounced in certain U.S. cities, as the study identifies through a comparison of 116 large cities across 11 key metrics, including employment rates and average weekly work hours, reports Study Finds.

Washington, DC, emerges as the nation’s hardest-working city—notable not only for its long work hours but also for the high percentage of workers (64%) who leave some of their vacation time unused. The capital’s residents also commit to lengthy commutes and active participation in volunteer work—adding layers to their already packed schedules.

Coming in second is Irving, Texas, where residents have a much lower amount of down time compared to people in most cities. The city also ranks ninth in the United States in terms of the average number of hours worked per week.

Third on the list is Cheyenne, Wyoming, where residents put in the third-most hours of work per week. People living in Cheyenne also have the third-lowest amount of leisure time, on average.

Rounding out the top five are Virginia Beach, Virginia, and Anchorage, Alaska.

Interestingly, Texas has nine cities that rank in the top 20—including Dallas, Austin, Corpus Christi, Plano, Fort Worth, Arlington, Laredo, and Garland.

Compared to the United Kingdom and Germany, Americans put in 279 more hours and 470 more hours of work, respectively. One of the major reasons why is because of the lack of federal laws mandating paid leave in the United States and a pervasive fear of being perceived as a slacker.

“Some have referred to this as America’s culture of presenteeism. A smaller percentage of American workers than those in Europe have union representation and union workers are more likely to have better pay and benefits than their non-union counterparts,” explains Michael Yelnosky, a professor at Roger Williams University.

He adds, “We are also a country that celebrates consumerism and the acquisition of wealth. Our brand of capitalism is much more individualistic and laissez-faire than European versions. Many American workers do not think the long hours are worth it.”

The question of whether longer hours lead to higher productivity is up for debate. Americans usually associate an employee’s value with the amount of time he or she works. However, research does not support the idea that long, unbroken work hours enhance productivity. Instead, they may lead to stress, burnout, and a host of other negative outcomes for both employees and employers.

“Long work hours mean time away from family, which may not be beneficial for the family, and may create issues that spill over into broader society,” says Ann Hodges, program chair of paralegal studies at the University of Richmond.

In terms of policies to improve American workers’ quality of life, experts suggest reforms such as updating overtime protections and enacting laws that offer predictable schedules and prevent “clopening” shifts, where an employee closes the business at night but has to come back in the morning to open.

“Today, employers frequently avoid paying overtime by classifying their workers as exempt salaried employees. Companies are more likely to assign longer hours to workers who cannot earn this wage bonus,” notes Keith Cunningham-Parmeter, a professor at Lewis & Clark Law School. “Currently, the law allows employers to deny overtime to workers who make roughly $35,000 per year, if they meet certain other requirements. The Department of Labor has recently proposed changing this minimum to about $55,000. That is a step in the right direction.”

As for the opposite end of the list, a few surprising cities have fallen from the ranks of the hardest-working places in America. Forever known as “the city that never sleeps,” New York ranked 99th out of 116 cities on WalletHub’s survey. Last year, the Big Apple also ranked last on WalletHub’s survey of the best places to start a career.

The motor city of Detroit, famous for its car-making past, ranked second-to-last on the 2024 list of hard-working cities. Of the cities surveyed, only Burlington, Vermont finished lower.

Research contact: @StudyFinds