Retro is back in style again — but this time it’s the four day work week, not bell bottoms, making a comeback. All over the country, employers and employees are seeing the benefit that the four day (ten hour/day) week has to both “employees and businesses bottom lines” by providing commuters with a little relief from high gas prices. City employees in Birmingham, AL, for example, are moving to the four day week because, as the mayor’s chief of staff explains: “We are doing it in an effort to help employees save some money on gasoline.” Counties in Texas, Pennsylvania and New York are following suit, estimating that cutting out two commutes per week could save employees 20% on fuel costs and 65 million gallons of gas per day.
First made popular during the late 1970’s when gas prices first rose to, at that time, astronomical levels, the four day work week is designed to help the 44% of people who report that gas prices have affected their commute. Unfortunately, the late 1970’s was one of the most badly faring economic periods in recent history recent US economic history in terms of inflation, unemployment and general economic unrest.
Although use of mass transit has skyrocketed to its highest ridership in 50 years, still only 5% of workers commute by public transit, and fewer than 20% of households have easy access to buses or trains. Paul Krugman rightly notes that many of our American cities are not equipped with public transportation systems, leaving millions of Americans with no choice but to drive long distances and depend on their employers, or schools, to administer these alternative commuting arrangements.
Although the four day work week might be a short term fix for high gas prices, America needs to make some long term changes both in infrastructure development and in energy consumption — because as much as workers may love the idea of the four day work week, nobody loves the idea of four day pay.