Does Daylight Savings Time Cost the US Money?

By Bob Haegele · May 05, 2023 · 7 minute read

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Does Daylight Savings Time Cost the US Money?

In most parts of the United States, people move their clocks back by one hour in the fall and move them forward by one hour in the spring. Many people have been doing this their entire lives, yet they don’t fully understand it. Perhaps still worse, many don’t know just how expensive daylight savings time can be.

Here, learning more about this topic, including:

•   What is daylight savings time?

•   What are the benefits of daylight savings time?

•   How much does daylight savings time cost Americans?

•   What would happen if daylight savings time was eliminated?

What Is Daylight Savings Time?

Daylight saving time (DST), commonly known as daylight savings time, refers to moving clocks forward one hour in the spring and back one hour in the fall. You may be used to hearing this referred to as “spring forward, fall back,” which is the clever phrase people often use to help them remember which way to reset the clock.

The idea behind DST is to sync times of activity (work and school, for instance) with daylight, so less energy is needed for artificial illumination. Using less energy is, in turn, a way to live more sustainably.

A couple of bits of DST trivia:

•   New Zealand entomologist George Hudson was the first to propose daylight saving time in 1895. Major countries adopted the standard shortly thereafter.

•   The United States adopted DST with the Standard Time Act of 1918 and later with the Uniform Time Act of 1966.

While most states observe daylight saving time, there are some exceptions. For instance, it is not observed in Hawaii and most of Arizona. It is also not observed in Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands. The places in the U.S. that don’t have DST generally have a lot of sunlight year-round, making the practice far less appealing.

Countries around the world observe daylight saving time as well. That includes most of Canada and Europe, plus parts of Asia and South America.

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Who Benefits From Daylight Savings Time?

Given that daylight savings time has been a fact of life for many years, you might wonder why exactly it exists. What are the pros of this system? Here are some answers:

•   Typically, daylight savings time is credited with saving energy. Proponents of DST say it reduces energy usage, thus improving the financial health of the country.

One study from the Department of Energy showed that daylight saving time leads to a mere 0.5% reduction in energy usage, however. And economist Kurt Rankin notes the evidence around reduced energy usage is inconclusive, with some studies asserting that there would be no economic impact of daylight savings time on energy usage at all.

•   A common belief is that industries like tourism and retail might benefit from daylight saving time. The idea is that more hours of daylight in the warm months incentivizes more people to give these businesses their patronage. Again, though, there is debate about the efficacy of this. Rankin says there is no evidence to support this claim.

•   There could be certain social benefits of daylight saving time, such as a reduction in robbery and sexual assault. Longer days mean people spend less time outside after dark, which might reduce these crimes.

How Much Does Daylight Savings Cost Americans?

Now that you know what daylight savings time is and its goals, here’s some intel on the other side of the story: What is the cost of daylight savings time?

The exact cost (or benefit) of daylight saving time is difficult to estimate because there are many variables. A frequently cited study places the cost at $430 million annually, a figure that could lead to significant money depression. The research credited the time change with lowering productivity and increasing health issues.

But the true cost can be tough to estimate. Part of the difficulty of estimating the cost of DST is that the impact is not the same for everyone. For instance, some industries, such as agriculture, are negatively impacted by DST. But others, like tourism, sports, and retail, believe daylight saving time helps their businesses.

Daylight saving time can also lead to reduced productivity for workers after they spring ahead and lose an hour of sleep. Sleep experts say the change in sleep patterns can affect people’s circadian rhythm for weeks. While also difficult to measure, the cost of lost sleep can be significant.

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What Would Happen if Daylight Savings Time Was Removed?

The immediate impact of removing daylight saving time is that clocks would stay the same year-round. No longer would you fall back in November and spring ahead in March. This could help keep sleeping patterns more consistent year-round, potentially increasing quality of life.

Without DST in the United States, you would also enjoy light later in the day in the winter months. However, the sun would rise later, which could mean groggy mornings. The inverse would be true for the summer. The sun would rise very early in the morning, but it would also set earlier.

(In parts of the world that are close to the equator, the length of days is not as varied throughout the year. Thus, changing the clocks would have little impact on these parts of the globe.)

Some groups suggest there could be a real benefit to removing DST for office workers. For instance, one study from the University of Alabama Birmingham suggests losing an hour of sleep in the spring increases the risk of heart attack. While some say DST contributes to increased traffic accidents and deaths, others say the difference is insignificant.

As you see, there are many viewpoints to consider in this debate about DST.

The Takeaway

Daylight saving time, or DST, involves setting the clocks back one hour in the fall and forward one hour in the spring. There is a debate about the value of this system, which is designed to provide daylight when it’s needed most. Some believe it boosts productivity; others say the cost of daylight savings time in the U.S. is actually hundreds of millions of dollars. In addition, there is a debate about the potential health impacts of changing the clocks.

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Does daylight saving time save money?

The main way in which daylight saving time might save money is with lower energy costs. For example, it would cause people to have lights on for an hour less time in the evening, potentially saving energy. However, the Department of Energy released a study showing the energy savings to be just 0.5% per household on average.

How does daylight saving time boost the economy?

Some sectors, such as retail, believe daylight saving time can provide an economic boost by giving people an extra hour of daylight to go shopping. But the real-world evidence for this kind of idea tends to be mixed.

What are the downsides to daylight savings?

In today’s economy, the biggest downside to daylight savings might be the negative effect it has on workers when they lose an hour of sleep in the spring. For instance, it could lead to lost productivity due to drowsiness in the days and weeks after we spring ahead. Others believe it can lead to more severe consequences, such as an increase in the number of car accidents and heart attacks. However, the evidence for these more extreme impacts is inconclusive.

Photo credit: iStock/baona

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