McMillan: Crusaders for a 4-day workweek have their priorities wrong

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(Graphic Illustration by Falyn Sebastian | The Collegian)

Adah McMillan, Collegian Columnist

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, more people have been researching and advocating for a four-day workweek. A four-day workweek is exactly what it sounds like: a change from the full-time standard of five working days — about 40 hours a week — to four working days — 32 hours — each week while keeping the same pay and benefits. Some companies have already implemented a four-day workweek, either permanently or as a trial. 

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The four-day workweek can improve productivity, engagement, recruitment and other factors in a variety of industries. 4 Day Week Global, a not-for-profit organization that researches and advocates for the four-day workweek, says employers should shift their “business away from measuring based on hours worked and towards measuring based on results.”

In a lot of jobs, hours worked matter more than productivity. Managers would rather have a cashier who’s available to ring up hundreds of customers over the course of a week than one who can ring up hundreds of customers in a few hours. People would rather have a tow truck driver who’s on-call whenever needed than one who can give their car the best tow of its life. 

The most important services, like grocery stores and hospitals, are services that need to be available almost all the time. They need to be there when the privileged four- and five-day businesses send their workers home. 

According to 4 Day Week Global, “COVID-19 made it clear we can find a better balance between work and life.” The pandemic made it clear that we need to better value essential workers, who often happen to be our lowest-paid workers. 

According to The Brookings Institution, in America, “Essential workers comprised approximately half (47%) of all workers in occupations with a median wage of less than $15 an hour.”

$15 an hour is $31,200 a year if you work 40 hours a week and 52 weeks a year. The livable wage in Colorado is $54,000.

“Advocates for the four-day workweek need to shift their focus to the more pressing issue of minimum wage because at the end of the day – and during the three days they have off – the people we depend on most are those suffering the most.” 

We need to worry about the wages of our essential workers before we consider shortening the workweek for anyone. The federal minimum wage hasn’t changed since 2009, but “the U.S. dollar has lost 24% (of) its value since 2009,” according to the Consumer Price Index Inflation Calculator.

A four-day workweek could be nice for essential workers as well as office workers, but it would be hard to keep wages the same for hourly workers with a decrease in hours per week. Raising the minimum wage should be a higher priority than shortening the workweek for anyone who cares about all workers. 

According to USA Today, “The bottom 90% (of American workers) earned 69.8% of all wages in 1979, but that share fell to 60.9% (in 2019). Meanwhile, the top 5% saw their share of total wages rise from 19.4% to 27.8%, while the top 1% nearly doubled their share from 7.3% to 13.2%.”

That wage gap is a serious problem that we need to fix as soon as possible. Some worry that raising the minimum wage would cause inflation, but inflation is going to happen no matter what, and historically, raising the minimum wage has not correlated with inflation. Businesses can definitely cover the expense of higher wages when the average American CEO makes 351 times the amount the average American worker makes

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Advocates for the four-day workweek need to shift their focus to the more pressing issue of minimum wage because at the end of the day – and during the three days they have off – the people we depend on most are those suffering the most. 

Reach Adah McMillan at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @mcadahmillan.