Everyone from Congress to Microsoft founder Bill Gates to virtually anyone who has an e-mail address has something negative lately to say about spam – that unsolicited junk that fills up e-mail accounts and represents nearly half of all e-mail traffic.

But now a new study has actually put a price on spam, and it’s one that is costing companies dearly.

According to a report from independent research company Nucleus Research, unsolicited e-mail costs businesses $874 per employee per year in lost productivity, based on an hourly pay of $30 and an annual work year of 2,080 hours, IDG news service reported.

In other findings:

  • Companies lose about 1.4 percent of employee productivity a year due to spam;

  • On average, each employee receives nearly 14 spam e-mail messages per day;
  • Employees spend about 6.5 minutes daily managing spam in their e-mail accounts.

Other studies, including one from Network Associates, say employees average about 40 minutes per week dealing with spam.

Most surveys thus far have focused on the volume of spam, not its cost to businesses and companies, Campbell, chief executive officer of Nucleus, told IDG.

We didn’t see any study that dealt with productivity … questions like, ‘If I employ a spam filter, how much time do I get back?’ or ‘Am I blocking messages that are costing me time to deal with?'” said Campbell.

Consumer groups have begun calling on Congress to deal with the growing problem of unsolicited e-mail.

“People are drowning in spam, and the proposals Congress has been producing just tell people to swim harder and apply to the government for the occasional life raft,” said Jason Catlett, president of Junkbusters Corp., an anti-spam group.

Lawmakers are considering creating a national registry for e-mail addresses, similar to one just created for consumers to register their phone numbers so they can opt-out of telemarketing phone calls. But not all anti-spam groups are convinced that approach will work.

“These opt-out laws are nowhere near strong enough to reduce spamming,” said Catlett. “People should to be able to sue spammers in small-claims court for the first spam they get, just as they can with junk faxes.”

Adds Scott Hazen Mueller, chairman of the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email, “We are hard-pressed to find a single measure in these bills that will result in less unwanted e-mail for consumers, while spammers couldn’t have asked for more favorable protections.”

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