5 Things Americans Want Right Now
The desires of Americans change with the passing of time. From the new cars and refrigerators of the 1940s and ‘50s to the free love of the ‘60s and ‘70s to whatever was going on in the ‘80s (I basically imagine that the entire decade was similar to the movie “Wall Street”), it’s safe to say that Americans constantly want things. Their desires are a reflection of the changing economic and social landscape. So what do Americans of 2014 want? Here are five major issues that have steadily gained ground over the last several years:
1. A Later Start To The School Day
A new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics has finally stated what we’ve all been thinking since the age of 12: School starts too early. Most U.S. school days start at around 8 a.m., according to the Atlantic; however, this fall, some schools will begin 40 minutes earlier in order to cram in “curricular demands.”
As someone whose own high school days began at 7:20 in the morning, I know how painful this is. Until now, though, there was no official acknowledgement that lack of sleep affects not just the grades but also the health and safety of teenagers.
Teenagers need at least nine and a half hours of sleep every night, according to the National Sleep Foundation. But according to one study, only 15 percent of kids are getting eight and a half hours on school nights. This can lead to an array of conditions, including depression, suicidal thoughts, obesity, lower test scores and poor concentration.
Starting school at 8:30 could change all this, the AAP suggests. The National Sleep Foundation agrees, citing studies that have resulted in improved attendance at schools starting one hour later in the day, not to mention a decreased rate of depression among students, better alertness, better grades and a decreased risk of car crashes caused by lack of sleep.
2. A Four-Day Work Week
Teenagers aren’t the only ones who need a break. America is known as one of the most workaholic countries; In 2011, only 57 percent of U.S. workers used all their vacation days, and while many other countries have moved past the standard 40- or even 35-hour work week, we’re still stuck working Monday through Friday.
What makes this even more depressing is that the countries with shorter work weeks also have high annual salaries and qualities of life. The Danish, for example, work an average of 33 hours per week and earn an average annual wage of $46,000, plus at least five weeks of paid vacation a year. In the Netherlands, a four-day week is pretty much standard; the Dutch work approximately 29 hours per week while taking home the equivalent of $47,000 a year on average.
If you’re not already sobbing into your keyboard, here’s one more: Belgian workers work an average of 35 hours a week and make an average of $44,000 a year—and each person is entitled to a one-year break during their career, during which they receive a government allowance.
It’s been shown that U.S. companies that experiment with a four-day work week have more productive employees who enjoy more quality time. People save money on gas, save time commuting, have more free time to volunteer or spend time with their families and are more likely to stay with their employers.
However, there’s still some debate over whether (if a four-day week was every implemented) people would work four 10-hour days or just cut their hours down to between 28 and 32 per week; it’s also something that would have to be implemented nationwide in order for the business world’s collective head not to explode with anxiety.
3. Paternity Leave
This one is based on the radical concept that both moms and dads might want to spend time with their new baby. It seems like a pretty good idea — after all, with both parents there to take care of a newborn, it allows each to actually have a little free time and catch up on their sleep. And in a country where the idea that men are families’ sole breadwinners hasn’t existed for quite some time, it’s odd that the corporate world continues to cling to an outdated model.
Yet cling it does. According to the Huffington Post, Australia’s 2010 parental leave policy left the U.S. as the only industrialized nation in the world that doesn’t mandate paid leave for mothers, with only 16 percent of employers offering fully-paid maternity leave. Most countries also offer paid paternity leave. The U.K., for example, offers 280 days of parental leave (that is, both maternity and paternity leave) at 90-percent pay, while Swedish parents are given 480 days per child, to be split between the parents however they desire.
In a 2014 Boston College survey, 89 percent of the men surveyed said it was important for employers to provide paid paternity or paid parental leave.
As new dad Kumar Chandran recently told NPR, “Every day I’m like, I can’t imagine doing this by myself… [even] if it’s just having someone take him so that someone can take a 10-minute nap or eat or make breakfast or something like that.”
It’s been documented that when fathers take paternity leave, the whole family benefits. Mothers have an increased sense of wellbeing, are less likely to be depressed or get sick, and their earnings even increase. Fathers get more of a chance to bond with their children, which carries over into later life — seems like a major win-win situation.
4. Climate Change In The Classroom
There are a lot of climate-change deniers out there, but a recent survey from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication brings a heartening twist to the debate: People actually want to know more about climate change.
The May survey indicates that 63 percent of Americans believe climate change is happening, but a large portion either don’t understand the process or have major misconceptions. “Large majorities,” for example, believe that global warming is caused by the hole in the ozone layer and aerosol spray cans.
However, 75 percent of those surveyed say they’d like to know more about the issue, and also believe that schools should be teaching children about climate change. Sounds like a clear majority to me!
5. Legalized Marijuana
Do most people in this country really want legal marijuana? According to a CNN/ORC International survey, the answer is yes. Yes, they do.
Released in January, the survey found that 55 percent of those polled said marijuana should be legalized. This number comprised two-thirds of those in the 18 to 34 age range and 64 percent of those aged 34 to 49. Surprisingly — or perhaps, not so surprisingly? — half of people aged 50 to 64 believe that marijuana should be legal.
Numbers vary by race, gender, political party and geographical location, but the overall attitude is much more liberal than it was in the past. Fewer people now believe that marijuana is addictive or a “gateway drug”; only 43 percent believe it is physically harmful, and just 35 percent believe smoking pot is “morally wrong.”
With Colorado and Washington leading the way on legal recreational marijuana, the nation is at a turning point — it remains to be seen how prevalent pot will be in the future, but if these numbers are any indication of what’s in store, more states may soon be jumping on the bandwagon.