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News from EPI New Company Wage Tracker shows low wages are the norm at large retail and food service employers

Today, the Economic Policy Institute and the Shift Project released an interactive Company Wage Tracker, which uses unique survey data to show worker wage distributions for 66 large retail and food service firms, including Starbucks, McDonald’s, Walmart, and Dollar General. The tracker also provides comparisons of company revenue and CEO pay, showing a vast gap between how these firms reward their CEOs and how they compensate their front-line workers.

At Starbucks—where workers have sparked a union organizing wave in recent months—63% of workers make below $15 an hour. At Dollar General and McDonald’s, 92% and 89% of workers, respectively, make below $15 an hour, with nearly one-in-four workers making below $10 an hour at both companies. A majority (51%) of workers make below $15 an hour at Walmart.

“Low wages are a defining feature of the U.S. labor market, and the service sector in particular. Low pay is not limited to ‘mom-and-pop’ stores—it is also widespread in big box stores, restaurants, and grocery stores that often have high CEO pay and revenue,” said Ben Zipperer, economist at EPI. “A higher minimum wage and unions can put corporate greed in check and raise wages throughout the labor market.”

The tracker also shows relatively higher wages at a select few firms, including Costco, UPS, and Amazon, but glaring inequalities remain. For example, two-thirds of workers at Amazon make below $18 an hour, despite Amazon revenue totaling $386 billion in 2020.

“Wages are far too low for far too many workers in the service sector, millions of whom staffed the frontlines during the pandemic. But these data also show that higher wages are more than possible—they are already a reality for workers at some of the largest firms in the country,” said Daniel Schneider, Professor of Public Policy and Sociology at Harvard University and Co-Director at the Shift Project.

While the tracker does not show demographic information, 1 out of 3 workers in the retail and accommodation and food service sectors is Black or Hispanic and half are women, according to national data from the Current Population Survey.

The Shift Project recruits survey respondents using online Facebook and Instagram advertisements targeted to workers employed at large retail and food service employers. The data presented above are from 66 firms with the largest number of survey respondents interviewed between March 2021 and November 2021. The survey data collection was national in scope and the survey sample includes respondents from all 50 U.S. states and Washington, D.C. Uniquely, the Shift Project data identify the firm at which each respondent works and contain at least 100 respondents at each of the 66 firms described here. The average number of respondents per firm is 317.

For more information on the Company Wage Tracker, the underlying survey data, and other reports written using the Shift Project’s survey data, see here. For separate research on the gap between CEO and typical worker pay, see EPI’s latest report here