Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Why Are We Talking about a $10 or $15 Minimum Wage? What About $33.65?

The news has been full of reports lately about planned increases to the minimum wage by various large employers (and for those who haven't gotten the message, there's a planned nationwide walkout for tomorrow -- coincidentally or not, Tax Day -- to rally support for a $15 / hour minimum wage).

If you haven't been paying attention (or trying to live on it), the current federal minimum wage is $7.25 / hour; at 40 hours per week and 52 weeks per year (what -- you thought you could afford a vacation on that salary?), that comes to the "generous" gross pre-tax sum of $15,080.

Some politicians, including the President, have come out for $10.10 an hour. Others, like Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington) have come out in favor of $12 / hour (by 2020).

In an article in today's New York Times, reporter Noam Scheiber quotes a co-founder of a grass-roots organizing group, Progressive Change Campaign Committee: "The days of debating $9 or $10 an hour are over. The active debate is in the realm of $12 to $15."

Maybe it should be higher still -- $20 / hour. Or maybe $33.65.

There is at least one business owner out there who isn't waiting for new regulations to be written. And, apparently, reads scholarly journals in his spare time.

In an article published in 2010 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (here), psychologist Daniel Kahneman (a 2002 Nobel Prize winner in economics, with Vernon Smith, and now professor emeritus of psychology and public affairs at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School) and economist Angus Deaton (currently Dwight D. Eisenhower professor of economics and international affairs, also at the Woodrow Wilson School) wrote that "High income improves evaluation of life but not emotional well-being" ... above a threshold of about $70,000 per annum. In other words, making more money will make you happier up to about $70,000 annually. Or, as the authors put it, "high income buys life satisfaction but not happiness, and ...low income is associated both with low life evaluation and low emotional well-being."

Having read that, and as the owner of your own company, what would you do?

Here's what Dan Price, founder and president of Seattle-based Gravity Payments (a credit card processor), did: He announced that, over the next three years, he will raise the annual salary of his entire 120-person staff to a minimum of $70,000.

What are his employees making now? On average, $48,000. For about 30 members of his staff, their salaries will double.

As reported by Patricia Cohen in today's New York Times (here), Price will pay for the increase in his employees' salaries "by cutting his own salary from nearly $1 million to $70,000 and using 75 to 80 percent of the company's anticipated $2.2 million in profit this year."

Cohen noted,
The United States has one of the world's largest pay gaps, with chief executives earning nearly 300 times what the average worker makes, according to some economists' estimates. That is much higher than the 20-to-1 ratio recommended by Gilded Age magnates like J. Pierpont Morgan and the 20th century management visionary Peter Drucker.
"The market rate for me as a C.E.O. compared to a regular person is ridiculous, it's absurd," said Mr. Price, who said his main extravagances were snowboarding and picking up the bar bill.
Can I buy Price his next round of drinks?

Of course Gravity Payments is a special case. It's not Walmart; it's not Target; it's not Bank of America. But I can hope that it gets more CEOs thinking seriously about what their workers are worth.