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Four-day work week could help restart the economy, New Zealand PM says – CTV News

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The four-day work week has been touted as a way to improve work-life balance. Now it’s getting a boost from New Zealand’s leader, who recently raised the idea as one that might help the economy in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a Facebook Live video posted earlier this week, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern shared the suggestion while discussing ways to revive domestic tourism in her country. Over the last few months, the coronavirus crisis has forced people around the world to lock down and decimated global demand for travel.

“I’ve had lots of people suggesting we should have a four-day week. Ultimately, that really sits between employers and employees,” Ardern said.

However, the idea has merit in that it might give domestic travelers “flexibility in terms of their travel and their leave,” she added. Ardern noted that 60% of New Zealand’s tourism industry comes from locals.

“There’s lots of things we’ve learnt about COVID and just that flexibility of people working from home, the productivity that can be driven out of that,” she continued.

The prime minister encouraged employers to consider allowing more flexible work set-ups — including remote work and putting in longer hours on fewer days — if possible, “because it certainly would help tourism all around the country.”

Four-day work weeks have become more popular recently as employers explore whether a tighter schedule can boost productivity.

New Zealand’s own government is no stranger to the idea of an alternative working schedule. Since 2018, several government agencies have signed up to pilot a program called “flexible work by default,” which directs employers to give their workers more freedom in various ways.

While it’s up to each participating agency to decide what that arrangement looks like, the government has outlined several possibilities — including allowing people to adopt shorter work weeks, “such as 40 hours over four days, or a nine-day fortnight.”

In 2018, New Zealand company Perpetual Guardian, which helps customers manage their wills and estates, also held a two-month trial of the concept. The firm said it was so successful, it wanted to make it permanent.

By working just four days a week, employees all reported higher productivity, better work-life balance and reduced stress, according to the firm, which had around 240 staffers.

“It was just a theory, something I thought I wanted to try because I wanted to create a better environment for my team,” founder Andrew Barnes told CNN Business at the time. “They went beyond my wildest dreams.”

Big businesses elsewhere are also starting to jump on the bandwagon. Last year, Microsoft took up the idea as the company’s team in Japan experimented by shutting down its offices every Friday in August, and giving all employees an extra day off each week.

The results were promising: While the amount of time spent at work was cut dramatically, productivity — measured by sales per employee — went up by almost 40% compared to the same period the previous year, the company said.

As a result, Microsoft announced that it would follow up with another experiment in Japan, and also asked other companies to join the initiative.

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S&P US chief economist: How we can add $5.7 trillion to the US economy – CNN

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The government’s economic relief package, as well as the Fed’s stimulus measures, will likely help the economy — but it is not nearly enough. Without an additional boost, I expect US economic activity will shrink peak-to-trough by 11.8% ($566 billion) in real terms and will remain down by 5.2% in 2020. In worst-case scenario, we may see a peak-to-trough drop of 13.7% in GDP, and remain down by 8.2% in 2020.
It’s not too late to change our trajectory, though. An investment in infrastructure would help get the United States back on track, with GDP likely recovering in four quarters instead of seven.
As the United States has evolved over the years, its infrastructure has fallen into massive disrepair. Roads, bridges, the electric grid and even public health infrastructure has been grossly neglected. US infrastructure has received a grade of D or D+ from the American Society of Civil Engineers since 1998, while the Department of Transportation wrote in 2018 that 64% of highways and 25% of bridges are in need of upgrades. Making this much-needed investment in infrastructure would give the US economy the boost it needs. In fact, I’ve found that a $2.1 trillion boost in public infrastructure spending over a 10-year period would have a return of 2.7, meaning that for each dollar spent, the US economy would get $2.70 back. This investment would be around the levels (relative to GDP) seen in the mid-20th century — the last time the United States heavily invested in infrastructure.
Why I will never let our employees go fully remote after the pandemicWhy I will never let our employees go fully remote after the pandemic
Over 10 years, the economic activity generated from this investment would be 10 times bigger than what was lost in the Covid-19 recession. It could add as much as $5.7 trillion to the US economy over the next decade, creating 2.3 million jobs by 2024 as the work is being completed. The additional 0.3% boost to productivity per year that it generates would lead to 713,000 more jobs by 2029. The estimated potential real GDP growth over the next 10 years would rise to 2.2% from 1.7%.
Though many jobs would end once projects are built, other jobs would be created from the net boost infrastructure gives to productivity, and the United States would see fatter paychecks each year. Our models show that it would add an additional $2,400 to per capita personal income by 2029, which would allow households to spend $3.5 trillion more over that period than if there was no investment in infrastructure. In addition, significant spending on large projects can enhance efficiency and allow goods and services to reach their destinations more quickly and at lower costs.
While boosting the American economy, infrastructure spending could also improve the ability to fight future pandemic outbreaks. US public health infrastructure is currently faced with an unprecedented crisis, and budget cuts over the past 10 years have likely made it harder to handle Covid-19. Solid investments in public health infrastructure, like public health agencies, a skilled public health workforce and updated data and information systems would help not only the health of citizens, but also their productivity, and, in turn, the health of the US economy.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been the catalyst for re-thinking the fundamental structure of many aspects of everyday life. Social distancing has led to changes in how we interact. Remote working may become a permanent fixture of the business landscape, raising the need to examine our data infrastructure. Transportation systems may be re-thought to incorporate these new ways of living. Not all people can afford the private transportation that would satisfy social distancing, and many rely on publicly available transport to make a living. In many parts of the country, reworking this infrastructure may be one of the cornerstones to adapting life to this new reality and ensuring it is viable.
By prioritizing infrastructure now, Americans could invest not only in the physical health of the nation, but also its economic health. At the same time, the systems and roads we build may be our path to the future and go a long way to determining how strong America’s future will be in the end.

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Restarting The American Economy: The Most Essential Factors – Forbes

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When governors and the federal government made the decision to close “non-essential” businesses and issue shelter-at-home orders to slow the spread of COVID-19, they did so without the benefit of a historical precedent. We are only now beginning to understand some of the ramifications of this drastic action. As the U.S. moves to unshackle its economy, millions of workers sit nervously waiting for a call from their employer. Though some workers have returned or hired on with companies that have thrived during this pandemic, others may never get ‘the call’ as companies restructure. You see, a crisis provides an opportunity (and motivation) for companies to reevaluate their business model in search of ways to cut expenses and increase profits. This is because success depends on how well a company can meet the needs of its consumers (revenue) and how well it manages its expenses. The difference between revenue and expenses is profit, which is the driving force behind the private sector. Profit is the lifeblood of every business and it is this lifeblood that is under attack.

How quickly will the U.S. economy return to normal? The answer is ‘it depends.’ It depends on how fast the unemployment rate falls. It depends on how quickly the consumer returns to their pre-COVID level of spending. It depends on the path of the virus. In essence, it depends on a myriad of variables. Let’s begin with unemployment as this will determine the level of economic growth over the next 12 to 18 months.

Unemployment

The official number of unemployed workers is now slightly over 41 million. This is substantially higher than the 5.75 million unemployed at the end of 2019. The current number of unemployed workers represents approximately 26% of the ‘pre-COVID-19’ work force. The unemployment rate hit 14.7% in April, the highest figure since the 24.9% rate during the Great Depression. According to some sources, unemployment is expected to reach 25.2% by the end of this year. Unlike the depression, however, the cause of this downturn is known, and the policy response has been more on point. Even so, can the U.S. economy return to normal with so many workers on the sidelines?

Slower Return to Normal?

Roughly 70% of the U.S. economic engine comes from consumer spending. Thus, when the consumer is actively engaged, the economy tends to prosper. Remove an additional 35 million consumers from the work force and, well, the economy suffers. More importantly, debt plays a vital role in economic growth. When consumers borrow, they spend more, which leads to growth. When you look at the level of total credit issued from all commercial banks since 1973, the average increase from one month to the next was 0.6%. In March and April of this year, the increase was 2.8% and 3.3% respectively. However, this was due to a 25% rise in commercial and industrial lending, much of which is attributable to the Paycheck Protection Program.

What about the largest driver of economic growth? Loans to consumers, which averaged a 0.5% increase from month to month since 1973, fell 3.5% in April. This is the largest monthly decline on record. This reduction in consumer lending has led to weaker consumer spending and slower economic growth. In fact, from March 1 to the end of April, consumer spending – as measured by personal consumption expenditures, fell nearly 20%. If you reduce the volume of loans to consumers – again, the largest contributor to GDP consumer spending falls and the economy slows. Therefore, we must find a way to help the consumer regain what they lost from the shutdown.

What else will affect the return to normal? It starts with demand, which, due to the shutdown, has plummeted. This is why the federal government, the Treasury, and the Fed embarked on a massive stimulus program to put money into the hands of Americans. However, since a one-time payment of $1,200 per individual and $500 per dependent won’t go very far, the federal government added a $600 per month bump in unemployment benefits.

The segment that benefits most from this are workers at the lower end of the income scale. Assuming these unemployed workers are receiving a total benefit of $800 per week ($200 state; $600 fed), this equates to over $41,000 per year. Working for $15 per hour, 40 hours a week, 52 weeks per year, yields $31,200 in gross income. Therefore, where is the incentive to return to a lower paying job? Unless extended, the $600 federal stipend will end July 30. This could lead to a flood of workers seeking reemployment. But how many of these jobs will be filled by then?

Safety concerns are key to consumer demand, which is key to the reemployment of the unemployed. How fast will the consumer reengage? Will there be a second wave of the virus? Will the virus mutate, hindering efforts to develop a vaccine? Regardless, some businesses will permanently close, others will reopen more slowly than expected, and many will look vastly different. Technology will assist those who continue working from home and replace jobs in some industries.

The ‘return to normal’ boils down to how well businesses adapt to this rapidly changing environment and become profitable again. A prosperous business community is necessary for a plentiful job market, which is critical for a thriving economy. If businesses fail to thrive, workers will have fewer employment options and unemployment could remain elevated for longer than necessary. Thus, saving our businesses may be the most important task of all, outside of the virus that is.

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Province considering a regional approach to reopening economy – Tbnewswatch.com

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TORONTO, Ont. – With the province reaching what the Ontario government is calling the post-peak phase of the fight against COVID-19, Premier Doug Ford said he is considering taking a regional approach to reopening the economy. 

“I am now comfortable with asking our officials to look at a regional approach for a staged reopening,” Ford said during his daily media briefing on Friday.

“This will be one option we consider as we move into stage two. This is one option we are putting on the table. We are only able to do this now because we are able to get our testing to where we need it so the health officials are looking right now at what a regional model could look like.”

Previously, Ford had been adamant that reopening the economy would be a province-wide approach, but as testing continues to increase throughout Ontario, with daily tests approaching more than 18,000, Ford said there is a much clearer understanding of where outbreaks are taking place.

“The reality on the ground is very different across any parts of the province,” he said. “We are now getting a much better picture of what each region is dealing with. With more testing that picture becomes more and more clear.”

The province entered stage one of its three-stage framework for reopening last week, allowing certain businesses to open their doors with strict workplace guidelines in place.

“Let me be very clear, I am not prepared to take unnecessary risk when it comes to our health and safety,” Ford said. “We will continue to take a measured and cautious approach.”

What the approach will look like in terms of a regional reopening is to be determined by the province’s chief medical officer of health and the COVID-19 command table.

“We are looking at our table of how we would do regional opening,” said Dr. David Williams, the province’s chief medical officer of health. “What we’ve seen in the data lately, we are getting a picture of what is happening live time. A lot of our cases are focusing around the GTA. Some of our health units are not seeing any cases for two or three weeks in a row and that is very encouraging.”

But Williams added there still needs to be considerations taken to protect vulnerable remote communities, such as First Nations communities in Northern Ontario.

“We have to look at that and see where the cases are occurring,” Williams said. “One of the aspects we have to be careful of in our regionalization is we want to make sure that if cases are introduced or came back again and are further out, we are very concerned about the north, especially remote First Nation communities that we are very attentive to.”

“It’s not just some numbers at some time, it’s the wider picture we have to consider.”

In terms of when the province will enter stage two of reopening, whether it’s regional or province-wide, will depend on testing and the number of cases.

“We developed a plan very early on for three stages of opening,” said Minister of Health Christine Elliott. “That is very important from a public health perspective. We are just now starting to see cases from the gradual reopening of our economy as part of stage one.”

“That will be thoroughly examined and we will decide when we should open up to stage two. The regionalization is a separate issue. The timing of the stages won’t be. That will be based on the number of new cases, the hospital capacity, the contact tracing. All of those things have to come together for the command table to feel that it is safe and make that recommendation.”

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