Corporate Profits are Growing– But at What Cost?

Hourly_Minimum_Wages_in_Developed_Economies_2011During the last week of each year, I engage in a thorough cleaning of my office. Get all email answered. Address all files left out on my desk. Cross things off the white board to-do list. Purge unneeded paper from ongoing files. That kind of thing.

In addition, I sort through all the articles I save throughout the year from various magazines. newspapers and websites. When it comes to good reading, I’ll admit to being something of a pack rat. You just never know when a great nugget of information will be useful in the future, right?

Like the Harper’s Index I saved from a few years ago – and rediscovered last week – that included this tidbit: “Portion of the increase in U.S. corporate profit margins since 2001 that has come from depressed wages: 3/4.”

There’s always a lot of talk about growing the economic pie. Those on the right generally accuse those on the left of standing in the way of that growth. But, this stat calls to mind the real debate that is needed about the economy: how to grow the pie, AND how the pie is best divided. With the national economy continuing to improve, that question is more ripe than ever. Several states passed minimum wage increases at the ballot box last November, and Maine may get a chance to do so itself in the next 2 years. Just today I read that American Airlines reached an agreement with its pilots’ union that included a 26% pay increase at a time that profits are soaring.

Perhaps seeing that Harper’s stat from 2011 is a warning that I am passing on. The pie is growing in some areas of the country, but it will only be enjoyed by those who stand up and demand a fair share. There will always be pressure on profit margins, but making those margins on depressed wages is not inevitable. At a time when many profits are increasing, now is the time for workers to make that case at the ballot box, the negotiating table, or anywhere else their voices can be heard.

About the author: Ben Grant is an attorney at the workers’ rights law firm, McTeague Higbee. He can be reached at or at 207-725-5581

Ben Grant

About Ben Grant

Ben Grant is an attorney at the workers' rights law firm, McTeague Higbee. He believes that all people should be treated fairly and properly compensated for a fair day's work. He concentrates his practice on workers' compensation, labor law, employment discrimination, wage & hour violations, and election law. Ben has been recognized by his peers as a Super Lawyers Rising Star - New England in the worker's compensation field.