In our current era of intense political polarization, here’s one topic both Democrats and Republicans can agree on: the worst day of the calendar year.
It’s not tax day, the first day of winter, or even SantaCon. There are still plenty of Americans who love New Year’s Eve, even if the wise ones among us are over it.
No, it’s that awful fall day when daylight saving time ends and we begin four unbearable months, during the coldest and dreariest part of the year, of the sun setting at 4:30 p.m. This year, it falls on Nov. 1. There might be a few Americans who don’t mind, but who among us would hang out with them?
While it might seem like hyperbole to suggest this is the worst day of the year, hear me out. After clocks fall back, Americans suffer from heightened levels of depression; an increase in auto accidents; and consumer spending goes down. Amazingly, even though daylight saving was originally enacted in order to conserve energy during the summer, it actually leads to higher energy consumption.
That’s just what happens in the winter. What about in the spring when clocks jump an hour forward? While it might not seem like a big deal for Americans to lose an hour of sleep, our bodies would argue otherwise. On the Monday after that blessed day when we get an hour of extra sunshine in the evening, there’s a 24 percent jump in heart attack victims visiting hospitals.
There is evidence that fatal car crashes, suicides, and workplace accidents increase as well. Even aside from physical trauma, it may take weeks for our bodies to fully acclimate to that single lost hour.
One of the few groups actively opposed to permanent daylight saving are educators, who fear that more children will be at risk during dark early mornings. These concerns are reasonable, but in reality, more people are killed by vehicles during evening rush hours than in the morning.
Americans leaving work and driving home in daylight, not surprisingly, leads to fewer car accidents and fewer robberies. Oh and having more daylight would give kids more time for physical activity, which in an country that has the highest obesity rate in the developed world is no small thing.
But there’s a far more obvious reason to make this change — daylight is better than darkness; and daylight in the evening is better than daylight in the morning. And it’s hard to imagine a more opportune moment to put a little sunshine in the lives of the American people than in the midst of a deadly pandemic that has brought about a significant spike in rates of depression and anxiety, as well as a host of issues with sleeping, eating, and alcohol consumption.
Polling from last fall shows that only about 3 in 10 Americans enjoy the Ping-Pong between falling back and springing forward. Most would prefer a reversion to either permanent daylight saving time or standard time.
It’s long overdue that we get rid of his antiquated tradition that few Americans seem to like, makes little economic sense, and causes actual physical and mental harm. While nine states have passed legislation to make daylight saving time permanent — and 39 others have proposed legislation — only an act of Congress can make a change for the entire country. Florida senator Marco Rubio has proposed the Sunshine Protection Act, which would end the fall and spring changes to the clock. The bill has 13 cosponsors, and the president has signaled support for it.
Senate Republicans seemingly have no interest in passing a coronavirus relief bill and extending unemployment benefits or protecting small businesses from collapse. The least they can do with the few weeks left before the election is give frazzled Americans something to look forward to this fall.
With six weeks to go until the fateful day when everything gets worse, what better opportunity is there for both parties to unite behind legislation that a majority of Americans can support?
Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.