How Many Days a Year Does Congress Work?

(Last Updated On: June 4, 2019)

How Many Days a Year Does Congress Work?

How many days a year does Congress work? If you answered, “less than I do”, you’d probably be correct. That’s right, Congress more likely than not works less days than you do. At face value, anyway. We’ll break things down a bit.

How Many Days a Year Does Congress Work?

Constitutionally speaking, there is no hard minimum or cap to the days Congress spends in session (in Washington, DC). They just have to meet at least one day a year. That’s it. In the past, this day was the first Monday of December (mostly because of the harvest season and whatnot). Today, though, January 3rd is the day Congress has to be in DC. Of course, they can vote to choose a different day entirely, so it doesn’t really matter in the end.

Beyond that one day though, there is no law outlining how many days Congress must work. We do know that on average since 1977, Congress has had session about 140 days out of each year. If that number seems a little low, that’s because the average American spends about 250 days out of the year in their workplace.

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How Does Congress Spend Their Time?

So, why doesn’t Congress work as much as the average American? Well, let’s pump the brakes a little.

The Congressional Management Foundation, in a poll for strengthening public trust in Congress, looked into what Congress members do when they’re not in DC. According to their stats, congress members work roughly 70 hour weeks when they are in DC, and around 59 hour weeks while outside of the city. If we stop to think about it for a second, this makes sense. It doesn’t seem very logical for the US government to function on just 140 days per year, and Congress doesn’t always need to be in session for things to happen. Especially with the aid of modern technology (whether or not you think politicians can use it).

While in DC, a congress member’s time is made up of floor votes, committee hearings, conference meetings, meetings with staff, appointments with constituent groups and lobbyists, and communications activities, like press conferences and interviews.

But Congressional members are also elected state representatives, so part of their job also has to do with affairs in their home districts. While at home, a member of congress has much more say in their daily agenda, and might fill their schedule with things like: visits to local businesses, schools, or nonprofits; town hall meetings; community or open office hours; press events; board meetings; or meetings with constituents.

It’s also worth noting the massive amounts of travel some congress members rack up in the course of a year. So basically what we’re trying to say is that Congress working only 140 days out of the year is probably a little bit of a misnomer.

Congress Vs. The General Public

The average American works between 40-50 hours each week. In fact, America is one of the few nations without a maximum cap on its work week. This is something un-unionized (and some unionized) industries have taken heavy advantage of.

Recent controversies in the games development industry are showing not only frequent abuse of long work weeks, but pride in doing so. The tech industry in general isn’t faring much better, and one of the first Google autocompletes for “tech industry” is “teach industry burnout.”

While this might be a tangent away from Congressional working hours, it does relate to the public’s perception of our elected officials. If you’re in an industry where your work hours seem to constantly be on the rise, it might be a little disheartening to see no notable work increase for those in power. So public distrust in Congressional work weeks is understandable when viewed in this context.

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About the Author:

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Kyler is a content writer at Sporcle living in Seattle, and is currently studying at the University of Washington School of Law. He's been writing for Sporcle since 2019; sometimes the blog is an excellent platform to answer random personal questions he has about the world. Most of his free time is spent drinking black coffee like water.