Next Week’s Solar Eclipse Will Cost US Economy $700 Million

$700 million...

That’s the total projected cost to the American economy in lost productivity as workers head outside to watch next week’s solar eclipse, according to Chicago executive-outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas.

Here's Reuters:

American employers will see at least $694 million in missing output for the roughly 20 minutes that outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimates workers will take out of their workday on Monday to stretch their legs, head outside the office and gaze at the nearly two-and-a-half minute eclipse.”

According to Andy Challenger, the estimate for how much time workers will ultimately lose to the eclipse  – approximately 20 minutes – is probably conservative. That's because some people might take additional time to set up their telescopes, or just linger outdoors on what’s expected to be a beautiful summer day. To get to $700 million figure, Challenger took one-third of the latest reading for US workers’ average hourly wage and multiplied it by the number of all workers 16 and over. By this logic, the final figure might be too generous, because only about half of Americans say they plan on watching the eclipse, according to a survey conducted earlier this month. Though that figure rises to 60% for workers in the eclipse’s narrow “zone of totality.”

Here’s a timeline of the eclipse from coast to coast, courtesy of Accuweather.  

In addition to the manpower wasted, the eclipse will also temporarily stop production of solar power along the 70-mile-wide path of totality. It will also reduce solar power output on the rest of the continent where the moon’s shadow will cause a partial eclipse.

However large the loss in productivity, it’ll likely be a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of time American workers waste on social media every day. For the better part of a decade, anemic US productivity growth has puzzled economists who’ve struggled to explain why advances in technology haven’t translated into more efficient workers. But as we’ve repeatedly suggested, the slowdown isn’t happening in spite of technology, but because of it, as mobile devices offer workers a virtual buffet of distractions that ultimately hinder efficiency.

Earlier this month, Facebook released user-engagement data for its popular Instagram photo-sharing app. The data showed that the average user below the age of 25 now spends more than 32 minutes a day on the app, while the average user aged 25 and older spends 24 minutes a day. The last time Facebook released this data, in October 2014, its users averaged 21 minutes a day on the app.

Challenger also pointed out that the eclipse will have an outsize impact on smaller companies because “when 3 or 4 people are missing from an office of 15, it’s a lot more disruptive.” But whatever the impact, it likely won’t be large enough to register in macroeconomic data, Challenger said.

"Compared to the amount of wages being paid to an employee over a course of a year, it is very small," Challenger said.

As a result, employers worried about the money-losing impact of the eclipse would be better served by banning social media in the office. According to Bloomberg, the eclipse is due to start a little after 9 a.m. local time on the West Coast and peak about 10:15 a.m. The East Coast will see the biggest effect after 2:30 p.m. In the central U.S., the eclipse will peak at 1:18 p.m.  Meanwhile Facebook remains accessible 24/7.

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