WASHINGTON–U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) this weekend authored an op-ed with former U.S. Representative Tim Ryan (D-Ohio-13) for MSNBC making the case for a new economic vision that recognizes the importance of leisure and free time. Thanks in part to longer work hours and wages that haven’t kept up with living standards, Americans have fewer hours to spend with friends and family, engage in hobbies, and build community which comes at a cost to our mental, physical, and spiritual health.

“People today feel like they’re stuck on a hamster wheel. As corporate profits soar, wages have failed to keep pace. Millions of Americans juggle multiple jobs to make ends meet. Today, the average worker has to clock 70 hours a week to sustain the same quality of life that 40 hours of work afforded 50 years ago. And for many, cellphones and laptops have made it impossible to ever escape the grip of work, even at home. With one income no longer enough to sustain an average family budget, parents’ days are lengthened by the extra time necessary to shuttle children to and from child care,” Murphy and Ryan wrote.

“Less and less free time leaves Americans feeling more on edge, more anxious, and more alone than ever before. We are disconnected from each other mentally, physically and emotionally, and we witness the ripple effects in the erosion of civility, the growth of fringe politics, and the increase in violence, suicide and overdose rates. The nation’s emotional health is spiraling in part because there is less and less time for leisure and connection,” they continued.

Murphy and Ryan laid out a series of policies to build community and give people back their free time: “To return to a time when work matters less and leisure matters more, we need to build a new economy where a full-time job provides a living wage. One 40-hour-a-week income should be able to support a family of four. This would assure the worker has adequate free time, and allow one parent in two-parent households, should he or she choose, to be out of the workforce and engaged in full-time family work. The easiest way to reach this goal would be to raise the federal minimum wage. If the federal minimum wage had simply kept up with inflation, today it would be $27 an hour, instead of the current $7.25. Perhaps a nearly $20 increase would be unrealistic, but we need an aggressive effort to help workers make up for all this lost ground.”

They added: “We can give unions the boost they need by ensuring federal dollars support union jobs, repealing so-called right-to-work laws that undermine workers, and passing the PRO Act. And we can build on a famous union victory — the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which set up the 40-hour workweek.”

On restoring third places, they wrote: “We also need a national strategy to reinvest in the physical infrastructure that connects communities. We need public investments and tax incentives to rebuild and reinvigorate old downtowns, expand neighborhood parks and athletic facilities, build bike and walking trails, and clean our waters to encourage outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking and canoeing. In other words, invest in the projects that get people out of their homes and offer opportunities for us to connect with each other in communal spaces — all while creating a good number of jobs.”

“Finally, we also need to acknowledge that there is a growing industry devoted to exploiting our leisure time. Social media platforms are obsessed with occupying every second of our free time and profiting off the data they collect on us. Recent advancements in AI have only accelerated this trend. In 2013, the average American spent about four hours per week on social media and 6 ½ hours per week with close friends. By 2021, we were spending almost 16 hours per week on social media and just 2 hours and 45 minutes with our friends. Regulating social media and artificial intelligence to make these products less addictive can restore leisure time that enhances spiritual health, rather than companies’ bottom lines,” they wrote.

They concluded: “For too long, policy has failed to realize the metaphysical value of free time and play — even for adults. We need a new economic vision that prioritizes leisure and social connection. That’s the only path to recover the spiritual health of our nation.”

Read the full op-ed here.