Americans are working less. Here's what they're doing instead

Americans like to think of themselves as an industrious bunch, but it turns out the country on average is working fewer hours and shifting time to leisure activities. 

The latest data from the Labor Department's annual American Time Use Survey may come as a surprise, given an unemployment rate that continues to inch lower. Even if the economy isn't actually the "best EVER" in the country's history, as President Donald Trump likes to claim, it's certainly growing and providing more work opportunities. So what's going on?

The American workforce is undergoing a major demographic shift, thanks to the aging of the baby boom generation. Even though the millennial workforce now comprises the large share of the U.S. labor force, the boomers are staying in the workplace longer than previous generations, tipping the balance toward older workers. Yet even though they're working, they tend to scale back hours compared with younger workers. 

Americans who are 15 years and older spent an average of 3 hours and 14 minutes working each day last year, compared with 3 hours and 28 minutes in 2007. It also represents a reduction of about 3 minutes less per day than just a year ago. The numbers may seem low, but the American Time Use Survey includes all Americans, including those who are enrolled in college, underemployed or unemployed, and retired. 

To be sure, it might seem that a stronger economy could be the explanation. If workers feel more secure with their jobs and in their employment prospects, for instance, they'll feel more flexible in cutting back. 

Yet some younger groups of workers are actually putting in more time than in previous years. Americans between 35 to 44 are on average working 5 hours and 13 minutes each day, or 15 minutes longer each than than they did in 2007, for instance. 

The American workforce has been aging for decades. The typical American worker was 38 in 1996, but today that's inched up to 42. 

How Americans are shifting their time

So how are Americans spending their time if they're not working? Watching more TV and sleeping, according to the survey. 

Americans are now sleeping 8 hours and 48 minutes daily (including naps), a boost of about 14 minutes compared with a decade ago. That's certainly good news for a chronically sleep-deprived population

The pull of the television set -- or streaming media -- is as potent as ever. Americans spent 2 hours and 46 minutes a day watching TV last year, a boost of about 9 minutes from a decade ago. In fact, about half of all leisure time is spent watching TV, the survey found. 

Computer games are grabbing more time among younger Americans. Young adults ages 15 to 19 spend about 1 hour and 3 minutes a day on computer games or computer use for leisure, compared with less than half an hour a day for adults ages 35 to 54. 

Reading is losing popularity with younger Americans. The biggest readers are those over 75, who spend about 51 minutes per day on the activity. Millennials, however, aren't picking up the habit. Americans between 20 to 34 years old spend only 7 minutes a day on reading, the lowest share of any age group.