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Will the US embrace 4-day workweeks?

A new bill has been introduced in Congress that aims to reduce the traditional five-day, 40-hour workweek to four days, or 32 hours – with no loss of pay. Evidence from Europe shows productivity remaining at 100%.

4-day workweeks proposed for US workers in Congress

Representative Mark Takano (D-CA) has reintroduced a bill that is aiming to reduce the 5-day, 40-hour workweek to 4 days (32 hours) with workers receiving the same amount of pay.

Takano’s bill has a lot of support, receiving endorsements from the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), 4 Day Week Global, Service Employees International Union, and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, People reported.

Bill aims for better quality of life for workers

“Workers across the nation are collectively reimagining their relationship to labor – and our laws need to follow suit,” Takano said in a press release. “We have before us the opportunity to make common sense changes to work standards passed down from a different era.”

“The Thirty-Two Hour Workweek Act would improve the quality of life of workers, meeting the demand for a more truncated workweek that allows room to live, play, and enjoy life more fully outside of work,” Takano added.

European tests of 4-day work week mostly successful

Iceland conducted a large trial between 2015-2019 testing a 35- to 36-hour workweek at the same rate of pay, and now nearly 90 percent of the working population there has reduced hours or made other accommodations, Euro News reported.

In 2022, the United Kingdom launched the world’s largest trial of a four-day work schedule, and the result was hailed as “extremely successful.” The UK test involved 61 companies and more than 3,300 employees, who were required to maintain 100% productivity to receive 100% of their pay. Over 90% of the UK companies involved in the trial said they would not go back to the old 40-hour week model, according to the Washington Post.

A new law in Belgium allowed employees to switch to a four-day workweek; however, it simply condenses their same work into fewer days.

Scotland will conduct a government trial in 2023, and Wales is also considering a trial.

The system hasn’t worked for all countries. Sweden ran trials of a 4-day working week at full pay in 2015 with mixed results.

Productivity soaring while compensation stagnant since 1970s

Since 1979, productivity has soared, putting the lion’s share of profits into the hands of companies, while compensation for labor has been nearly stagnant, at a rate of roughly 60% more for business and only 14% for workers.

The evidence seems to clearly indicate businesses can afford to reduce workers’ hours while keeping compensation the same.

From 1948 to 1972, the percentage growth in productivity and worker compensation were in lockstep. But the two started to fall out of sync and peaked in 1979. From 1980 through 1990, worker compensation actually diminished as productivity began to increase rapidly. From 1991 through 2018, employee compensation grew slowly but was dramatically outpaced by productivity.

In conclusion, from 1948 through 2019, the gap between productivity and workers’ compensation grew dramatically. Productivity increased 159.7%, while compensation only increased 113.7%. From the years 1979-2019, productivity increased 59.7%, while compensation only grew 13.7%, according to an analysis from the Economic Policy Institute.

If the hourly compensation for workers grew at the same rate as productivity, the median worker would be making $9 more per hour. Instead, the top 10%, and especially the top 1%, have gained a much larger share of all compensation, while labor’s share of income has eroded.