Inequality in America: Could a “thrive-able wage” really go viral?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Inequality in America
Click this Zingerman's illustration to jump to the company's site and read Paul Saginaw's entire statement.

Click this Zingerman’s illustration to jump to the company’s site and read Paul Saginaw’s entire statement.

Income inequality is the U.S. is gargantuan. It is the highest ever since 1928, right before the Great Depression.

One proposal to narrow this gap is to raise the minimum wage. Currently, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour for most sectors. For restaurant workers, it’s only $2.13 per hour, with the expectation that tips will make up the rest. Could you live on this wage—even with tips? The unlivable wages in the fast-food industry have spurred protests, proposals to raise the minimum wage, and talk of unionization.

Now, a handful of the nation’s most innovative restaurateurs are pushing a manifesto to encourage a “thrive-able wage” in the food-service industry. You can read the entire text, written by Paul Saginaw, who co-founded Zingerman’s cluster of Ann Arbor-based businesses 31 years ago. But here are three of the most provocative sections:

“I reject the argument put forth by many in the restaurant industry that livable wages and profits are mutually exclusive. Our experience at Zingerman’s proves exactly the opposite and I am not convinced we are exceptions to any rule. …

“Our success stands in direct opposition to the false claims about livable wages and profits that have dominated the debate for decades. We are uniting to prove to the rest of the industry investing in our employees has been a driving force to our growth and success, not an impediment. To those who argue raised menu prices will result in loss of customers and diminished profits, I question the scale of your profit margins and wonder who is shorted to maintain those margins—is it your employees? …

And finally: “We would be irresponsible employers if the jobs we provided could not support housing stability and health security. So we are motivated to gradually raise wages to a ‘thrive-able level’ for all of our lowest-paid employees across the board. A living wage is the path to a living economy and the antidote to the current suicide economy trajectory we find ourselves on. We don’t own this approach. Nothing would please me more than for it to go viral, industry wide.”

Outspoken! Even inspiring? Perhaps naive? And that’s my question today:

What do you think of the idea of providing all workers a “thrive-able wage”?

Do you think Paul Saginaw’s manifesto could go viral?

Series Navigation<< Inequality in America: Was Dr. Strangelove right?Income Inequality: Was Henry Ford right with his $5 work day? >>
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