New Data Shows Pandemic's Impact on How Americans Spent Their Time in 2020

The data is pulled from the American Time Use Survey, which itself had to pause its collection process for two months early in the pandemic.


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If you’ve never heard of the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), now’s probably a fair time to give it a glance, and for reasons that have recently started to once again feel like they may never really go away.

In short, the ATUS is a Bureau of Labor Statistics-sponsored survey that measures the amount of time people spending doing different activities, ranging from work to socializing. The U.S. Census Bureau is tasked with collecting and processing the data.

As you might expect, the 2020 edition of the ATUS was “greatly affected” by the pandemic, including a two-month suspension of data collection procedures earlier in the year. But even with that gap, as Ben Casselman and Ella Koeze highlighted in the New York Times this week, the findings show how dramatically day-to-day life was upended for so many  people across the country.

On average, people who lived alone spent more than 20 hours a day either asleep or alone. The demographic that saw the largest average amount of time spent alone was senior citizens, although the most dramatic shifts in terms of socializing were seen in younger age groups.

Elsewhere on the socializing front, there were (as expected) hyper-palpable differences in how people spent their free time in 2019 and 2020, with TV-watching and game-playing accounting for two of the biggest time-spent measurement spikes for those between the ages of 15 to 24.

A key element of the pandemic era, of course, has been the easily detectable spike in the number of people who worked from home in a full-time capacity. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics previously gave special attention to the fact that the percent of employed people working from home on days they worked nearly doubled during the pandemic, rising to 42 percent.

As we move further into 2021, current concerns here in the U.S. remain focused on boosting the nationwide vaccination rate amid variant-spurred issues.

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