Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics American Time Use Survey

Everyone who’s serious about making things better in the USA (for themselves and/or others) should have some idea of who lives here and how they spend their time. The American Time Use Survey comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and aims to do that.

It has a lot of data that can be utilized when formulating some kind of plan of action for people or for assessing their positions and capabilities.

For example for assessing health or ways for improvement, the average amount of time spent in “sports, exercising, or recreation” was around 18 minutes per weekday and 25 minutes per day on the weekend… but actually it’s only around 22% of people that are engaging in these activities at all and 78% are not.

So 22% of people are spending around an hour and a twenty five minutes on weekdays and two hours on weekends… but 78% are not spending any significant time in these activities.

Though basic, understanding how these averages are comprised are important. It’s not that if you pick a random American and ask how much exercise they did that day and that most of the time they will say something like “around 20 minutes”. It’s that around 4 out of 5 times the person will say that they did not exercise at all and then around 1 out of 5 times the person will say I exercised for around an hour and a half. When you put all these people together, you can say they average around 20-25 minutes per day… but people’s bodies are not really gaining the benefits of exercise when they don’t exercise at all. Just because 1 out of 5 people exercises for an hour and a half a day, doesn’t mean we’re mostly exercising enough. But if we don’t dive into the numbers, we can get fooled by things like that.

Anyhow, we should take this information to heart when considering the conditions of people in this country and the opportunity they or we have.

We should also consider data such as the fact that around 78% of people watch TV every weekday for an average of around 3 hours and 10 minutes and around 4 hours per day on weekends.

Are these 78% of people that watch TV every day the same 78% that do not engage in sports, exercise, or similar recreation activities?

Quite possibly. Quite likely.

If you look at reading for personal interest, you find an average of 15 minutes daily… but that’s actually representing around 20% of the population reading for an average of 1 hour and 22 minutes… and again around 80% not reading at all.

When it comes to people engaged in work there are some interesting findings.

On average men worked 5.08 hours per weekday and 1.38 hours per day on weekends. On an average weekday 60.2% of men were working and on average their workday was 8.43 hours long.

On average women worked 3.36 hours per weekday and 0.87 hours per day on weekends. On an average weekday 45.5% of women were working and on average their workday was 7.38 hours long.

On average, men spent around 3 minutes per weekday job searching and interviewing. The average percent of men engaged in searching for jobs or interviewing was 1.7%. Those searching spent 3.09 hours per day in the week and 2.36 hours per day on the weekend.

On average, women spent around 72 seconds per weekday job searching and interviewing. The average percent of women engaged in searching for jobs or interviewing was 1.1%. Those searching spent over 1.81 hours per weekday and 1.98 hours per day on the weekend.

On average, 1 percent of men spent time with other income-generating activities which amounted to 1.3 hours per weekday or 2.4 hours on the weekend.

On average, 1.1 percent of women spent time with other income-generating activities which amounted to 2.42 hours per weekday or 2.72 hours on the weekend.

On average, men spent 0.55 hours per day engaged in educational activities which came from the 8.1% of men who spent time in educational activities averaging 6.79 hours on weekdays and 4.43 hours per day on weekends.

On average, women spent 0.65 hours per day engaged in educational activities which came from the 10.4% of women who spent time in educational activities averaging 6.24 hours on weekdays and 3.49 hours per day on weekends.

Commentary: We can use these data points to consider paths towards general outcomes in the world. We could be disheartened knowing that around 80% of people watch around 3 hours of TV per day and don’t exercise at all or read at all, but we can also see that as a direct indication of potential. People apparently have the time to spend 3 hours per day just watching TV and not search for jobs, not work on their skills, not exercise, and not read. This amounts of to enormous untapped potential, and it also equates to massive amounts of arguably unnecessary energy usage. I will posit that many people would be much better off watching less tv, exercising more, and reading more books (which they could perhaps borrow for free by walking to the library).

There seem to be generally excuse making for people’s financial positions. While I believe there are issues people face being born into debt and poverty, I see the solutions having to do with people orienting their income generation towards NEEDS over wants and living lifestyles that will decrease the cost of their needs (read live healthfully so that sickness doesn’t ravage both your body and bank account – exercise, prepare your own food, etc…) and I would like people to be able to more easily buy land and legal livable year-round shelter. It appears that currently through unfair and unethical zoning regulations across most of the USA people are unable to live as they not-so-long ago did. The idea of an outhouse and a log cabin may sound unappealing, but I believe that it should be a basic fundamental right for people to be able to live their own lives through their own direct physical effort and what nature provides – and that people should not be forced through a financial and taxation/regulatory system not be able to do so. I would like to see these things changed at a fundamental legal level, but until they are, there are other basic avenues to accomplish similar goals legally. I.e. things like living inside RV’s, buildings that are below certain sizes so they don’t require permitting and setting up utilities, or getting groups of people to invest together so that their per person cost can decrease significantly, and simply aiming to develop in areas that are not so expensive. While rent for one person may cost $500-$1500 per month in many cities, permanently owning an acre of land can cost as little as $1-2,000 in many rural parts of many states. My assessment is that for well under $5,000 rural properties of sufficient size (an acre+) could purchased and they could be improved enough to have a desirable and simple in-door shelter with a water storage and catchment system and a sanitary human waste disposal system. I point these things out partially because it seems many people might focus on things like helping people in general earn more money, as though people’s problems stem from lack of financial resources. While this may be the case for some, it seems more commonly that this is not the problem, or for whatever reason despite having financial problems it appears that something like 90% of people do not engage in activities to improve their financial status – neither educating themselves, nor seeking greater employment, nor working on their own income streams.

If 99% of people do not try to start or work on their own income streams, then there are likely common attitudes and perceptions of starting income streams. I speculate that people will commonly think things like “starting a business is hard” or “I’m not a business person” or have some attitudes about not having services to provide. Maybe watching 20 or so hours per week of television and not exercising at all or reading anything is negatively affecting the quality of life for a lot of people. Perhaps if it’s not so much directly negatively affecting people’s life, as it’s that instead of spending the time doing something that would have a major positive impact like learning new skills, getting enough exercise, reading for leisure, or looking for better jobs or more work – people are just watching tv.

It seems common for think tanks to discuss things like poverty or sickness in the United States as conditions that should lead us to pity, but I wonder if pity is the appropriate emotion to feel for someone that has all the time in the world, apparently has the resources to over-feed themselves to the point of disease, watches more than 20 hours of tv per week, doesn’t read, and doesn’t exercise. But whether seen as pitiable or pitiful or not, it doesn’t seem right – especially when these behaviors have costs to everyone.

If the general foods people eat get produced in manners that are somewhat overall beneficial to the environment at large that would be great; the more people consume the more fertile and wonderful the world would be since the agricultural practices would be sustainable and life affirming. If the general foods people eat get produced in manners that are somewhat overall harmful to the environment at large… that would be quite bad; the more people consume the worse off most people and other lifeforms are. It seems that in many ways we’re at a point where people are hurting both themselves and the environment with their choices. But there’s more data to dive into about the environmental impacts of food and general food choices.

My expectation is that people hold many many erroneous beliefs about money, time usage, decision making, and personal potential.

Do people believe they can have their personal health is more or less in their hands?
Do people believe they can earn more money?
Do people believe they can learn new skills or improve upon them?
Do people think they have enough time to do these things?

I expect that data will show a very large percentage of the population might not truly presently (Jan, 2018) believe in their ability to make major strides in their health – even though I also expect that a series of questions could lead them to the right conclusion for most of them, that yes, they actually could exercise more, they could eat more healthfully (and overall gain from this – not sacrifice), and improve in other health related areas.

I expect that data will show a very large percentage of the population might not truly presently (Jan, 2018) believe in their ability to make major strides in their finances – even though I also expect that a series of questions could lead them to the right conclusion for most of them, that yes, they actually could work to improve their skills, spend more time searching for other potential jobs, or spend more time working on developing their own income streams.

I expect that data will show that many people simply do not think about learning new skills or improving their skills – some because they feel satisfied, others because they have some kind of negative attitude with low expectations of success or rewards from their efforts. I also expect that some series of questions to lead them to the right conclusion that yes they can improve their skills and learn new ones.

I expect that many people will claim they do not have enough time for these things, but they too through questioning and reflection will mostly realize the opposite – once they’re willing to potentially watch less tv.

Here’s what I don’t expect: Too many programs on TV effectively convincing people to not watch TV. I don’t expect YouTube or Facebook or Netflix or Amazon Prime to convince people to watch less either. So long as the public airwaves are sold to the highest bidders, the messages that get broadcast to viewers will not necessarily be delivered with the highest good in mind – but rather what will sell the highest amount of goods.

Perhaps newspapers and magazines can have a resurgence. I have noticed myself more and more interested in reading actual magazines with long form articles from people I respect. I used to buy magazines and really enjoy turning the pages and owning the item in print like owning a book. Perhaps print media can encourage a return away from screens and more towards thought and action. But I don’t know if we should expect this on a large scale. My assumption is that large businesses own newspapers and they also own tv stations and they also own or do business with products companies so they have a business cycle that is based on selling most goods.

We have to understand this when it comes to the forces shaping our behavior. A person is watching 20+ hours per week of television. The person may have major health problems that would be remediated by a bit more exercise and dietary improvement. The person may also have financial issues that would dramatically improved through a few hours a week of income generation. Yet according to the survey 98% of people were apparently not actively seeking employment nor working on their own income generating process. To think that 98% of people aren’t either seeking employment nor working on income generation AND they’re watching 20 hours plus of TV per week, to me, would remove a general sense of pity towards the majority of people that are considered “poor” and instead see a predictable outcome. However, this is referring to adults – not children. The children are unfortunately born into these situations, and I believe that it’s the role of education and media on public airwaves to do their part to ensure that children are not influenced to think that these conditions are attributable to some kind external unchanging powers or some kind of flaw in the system.

That said, it seems that mass media has done nothing but bolster claims that inequalities of outcomes occur from something like systemic oppression. Meanwhile, that very system of oppression could be arguably proven without a doubt to be the media itself. A person is watching TV for 20 hours a week, and the TV is telling the person “people are poor because of racism” or “women make less money than men because of sexism” or “the government is built for the rich people to take from the poor”… meanwhile the TV is not telling the person “you’re wasting the valuable time you do have… mostly watching other people get paid money to pretend to live scripted lives, or you’re watching ‘real news’ that’s supposedly ‘very important’ but for whatever reason you’re not expected to take any action on the matter – while your opinions and feelings seem to matter a lot.”

I wouldn’t be surprised to find a number of pluses from having television, people sharing narratives, sort of shared national experiences, similar subjects on their minds etc… it can be relaxing to just watch tv. Tv can take people’s minds off things, which can be good.

But overall, is it time for people to take their minds off their problems? Especially when it appears that very direct solutions exist for their problems?

What would happen if the people that could walk out of the 80% that don’t exercise (which is most people) would walk for around a half hour per day – instead of not walking at all? There would be what, millions of lives improved, and how many awful disease outcomes prevented? How much money saved? How much potential for more money earned? Would this perhaps decrease crime as well? Could this lead to a better environment?

If we, as a people, are trying to accomplish some great goals… what does it mean if we spend 20 hours per week watching tv and 80% of us do not exercise at all? I don’t mean to judge, but we can ask, why not watch more tv? Why not watch 30 hours or maybe fit in 40? Why judge that?

I think we can use people’s own reports of dissatisfaction with their bodies, their health, and their finances (and other measures) as the reason why we judge it. Not because we have to say that watching tv is inherently bad. Anything could be on tv. It could be the wisest person of all the lands exposing their wisdom and leading to wonderful outcomes for the viewers. Or, it could be someone selling people a product that hurts the consumer, causes long term environmental degradation, but makes a relatively small group of people a large amount of money. Or maybe it’s not even a product but just some show that just overall results in less happy people who live less socially beneficial lives. But the entire idea of living for personal or social benefit is one quite difficult to even discuss directly ON social media where the context of the social media is attempting to always get more and more engagement of viewers on that medium so that more products are sold.

My conclusion is not to get off social media. It is not to ban tv. It is not to turn off the radio. It is to merely consider more directly the amount of time we have as individuals and the amount of time other individuals have and examine their present life strategies and maintain awareness of what would likely lead to great benefit for them – and to NOT simply take excuses. We don’t necessarily have an easy task from there, but if it’s true that the solution for something like 150 million people in the USA is “watch less tv and go for a walk” – then why should we accept a vast number of relatively more negative economic, ecologic, educational, and health based predicted metrics?

Do we really believe that people will not, en masse, shift from 20 hours per week of tv, to something like 13 hours per week of tv and 7 hours of outdoor activity? Why wouldn’t they? Do we not believe the benefits of this shift would manifest for those people quickly? How long would it take to start feeling better from this shift? How can we help people make this shift? Could a person for example, start listening to the audio of the tv shows they like and go for walks while doing that instead of just sitting and watching? Could some people find new forms of media like podcasts and listen to them and go for walks instead of watching some of the hours of tv? Do people need to form walking clubs? Are people too embarrassed to leave the house? There will undoubtedly be a variety of reasons people have, but I figure the initial question might be to find out how many hours of tv a person watched last week, and ask in an ideal world how many hours of tv would you watch next week? And then use the difference in hours (if their ideal is less hours of tv) and ask them to imagine and or plan what they’d like to do with these extra hours… and to schedule in those times and activities.

Takeaway – overall we have the time, overall apparently less than 2% of people are motivated enough to search for work at all or start businesses (so poverty is unlikely to actually be so bad here OR poverty is not a motivating factor?), and less than 10% of people are working on their education or spending time to improve their skills outside of their employment.

To me this means that if a person in the USA is simply willing to NOT spend 20 hours per week watching TV and instead fill it with a variety of activities ranging from walking, reading, educating themselves (which they can do for free or close to it), working on skills, or seeking employment – then they have massive relative upward mobility and can be doing better than 80% of the current (2016) surveyed population segment in terms of health, finances, and basic life satisfaction. I strongly believe that THIS information holds a much higher relevant priority of being disseminated than the story of systematic oppression that gets spread so widely on TV. The message to the “disenfranchised” “oppressed” “minorities” can be the same message to the supposed “oppressors” in the “majority”. I put these terms in quotations because I think that some data that we didn’t discuss yet but could perhaps agree upon would conclude that the majority of people as of today are not really living the lives they would like to if they felt that they had control of their lives.

If people do not feel in control of their lives then they either are not in control of their lives – and this probably should suggest they’re not really quite so much of “privileged” “oppressors” OR they “are” in control of their lives but their education and mindset has misled them to habitually take actions that miss the mark from their best interests. It also seems very difficult a case to prove that a random person who does nothing but work at their job and sit at home watching tv can have such a devastating role with negative race based or gender based attitudes – not only are these people unlikely to be engaged in hiring or firing, the idea that they’re competitively at an advantage seems somewhat strange if the reality is that neither group is really generally competing at all.

If 90% of people aren’t educating themselves and are spending 20 hours a week just watching TV, then whoever wants to start educating themselves and spending 10 hours a week less on TV and 10 hours more engaged in their skill development and implementation – those people will be WAY ahead of the so-called “entrenched establishment privileged” – whatever group.

You can also look into the historical data to realize it’s not just brand new for people to spend 20 hours per week watching TV. They have done this for decades. So we need not just think of a person gaining 10 hours of education on someone else, but of someone gaining 500 hours or 1000 hours or more. But it’s not just about hours, it’s about mindset. If a person doesn’t believe they can change, they probably won’t. If a person doesn’t see a value in changing, they probably won’t try. Do media messages tend to suggest and encourage change? Or do they encourage further emotionally bolstered defensiveness? “I must have the obesity gene” “I make less money because I’m a woman” “White people are keeping me down”.

There may certainly be data to support the notion that the US system advantages white males or that white males have the visible position of powers, but does that data help improve whoever those conclusions would supposedly disadvantage? People can put down the media, and get to work making what they want into a reality.

Use data for good.

My conclusion is not solely that this means people in general are lazy passive idiots, even though that would be a pretty sound conclusion. How else could you describe this group? Well, we might find data showing depression, loneliness, sadness, self-destructiveness, addictions etc… Uneducated. Uninformed – despite taking in 20 hours plus of external messaging per week… they’re not getting the message they need.

There’s something very wrong here…