To jumpstart the economy, make daylight saving time permanent
These are precarious times for the American economy. Inflation has soared to new heights, catalyzing the biggest market correction since the COVID crash. Meanwhile, the global supply chain inches along at a snail’s pace as the drums of war begin beating in the background.
To make matters worse, the Fed has exhausted nearly every tool at its disposal to stave off another economic crisis. And after two years of unprecedented government spending, another stimulus package is out of the question.
Or is it?
What if, in the face of these economic headwinds, Congress could pass a multidecade, multibillion-dollar stimulus package. And what if it could pass this legislation with overwhelming bipartisan support? And at no expense to taxpayers?
The good news: it can. Enter the Sunshine Protection Act.
On its face, a bill to make Daylight Saving Time permanent sounds like a niche issue—something that has little to do with either the economy or public health. But the Sunshine Protection Act has everything to do with both. This bill, which was written by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), is a stimulus package all on its own. And it’s the biggest bipartisan no-brainer currently sitting before Congress.
It’s a common misconception that lawmakers instituted Daylight Saving Time at the behest of farmers; it’s always been about energy savings and economic growth.
Congress first passed a bill to add an extra hour of sunlight to the evening hours in 1918 to bring down energy consumption during World War I. It extended DST hours again during World War II and in 1973 during the peak of the OPEC Oil Crisis. In every case, Congress recognized the value of energy during times of global uncertainty and the need to decrease dependence on foreign oil.
Sound familiar? The parallel for our own time is unmistakable. The West’s dependence on Russian oil has neutered NATO’s ability to do more lasting damage to Vladimir Putin’s government in the wake of the Ukraine crisis. President Biden expressed openness to sanctioning Russian oil last week—but he can go a step further to establish American energy independence by making Daylight Saving Time year round.
The benefits both to the economy and the environment of ditching the clock change would be substantial. The state of California estimated that it could save 3.4 percent of winter energy usage by making the switch. Now think what those energy savings would look like on a national scale. Had permanent DST been implemented more than a decade ago, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy estimated that the U.S. would have accrued more than $4.4 billion in energy savings and would have cut carbon emissions by 10.8 million metric tons.
And massive energy savings is just the start. The switch to permanent DST would inject billions of dollars each year across all sectors of the economy.
Consider a snapshot of just two industries in particular. When Congress began weighing the benefits of extended DST as far back as the 1980s, officials representing the golf industry said a single month of extra sunlight would increase their sales revenue by $200 million. Meanwhile, officials representing the barbecue industry said it would increase their monthly sales revenue by $100 million. Now adjust those numbers for inflation and multiply them by four (the number of additional months we would have under year-round DST), and it’s easy to see the Sunshine Protection Act for what it really is: a stimulus package on steroids that comes at no cost to taxpayers.
Of course, to truly understand how much we have to gain from year-round DST, we must also understand how much we lose by adhering to the mindless ritual of changing our clocks. The clock change in the spring robs Americans of an hour of sleep each year, which translates to $434 million in lost productivity across the U.S. economy as workers arrive at their jobs tired and disengaged due to disrupted sleep patterns. Then, when Americans return to Standard Time in the fall, consumer spending drops by 3.5 percent as a result of fewer daylight hours in the evening.
And none of this is to mention the negative health effects of the clock change. It’s no exaggeration to say that the current time regime kills. In the days following the biannual switch between Standard Time and Daylight Time, there’s a sharp uptick in strokes, cardiac arrests, fatal car accidents, robberies, and even suicide. Moreover, the early winter sunsets we subject ourselves to starting in November have been linked to higher incidences of depression, anxiety, and seasonal affective disorder. Changing our clocks twice a year is more than a mere inconvenience; it’s the cause of countless tragedies across the country that are impossible to even quantify in economic terms.
Thankfully, there’s a ray of sunshine amid all this gloom: the fact that we don’t have to do this to ourselves anymore.
The perennial madness of switching our clocks is an unforced error that inflicts tremendous damage on our economy and public health. But the fix is simple: nix the clock change altogether by making Daylight Saving Time permanent. This would give us later sunsets all year round—and it’s exactly what the Sunshine Protection Act aims to do. In a hyper-partisan Congress, it seems that sunlight is one of the few things that has yet to be politicized. Already, this bill enjoys significant support on both sides of the aisle. Since 2015, 19 states have passed legislation to make year-round DST possible. But they can’t make the change until Congress grants them permission through the Sunshine Protection Act.
The time has come to pass this bill. The time has come to boost our energy savings, our public health, and our economy. The time has come to change our clocks this Sunday—and then never again.
Sam Lyman is the Policy Director at the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation. He served previously as a speechwriter at the US Senate and the US Chamber of Commerce.