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Mar 25, 2022
This article is part of a series called The Most Interesting HR Stories of the Week.

A third of the workforce earn less than $15 per hour…

America might well hold the crown as commanding the world’s largest economy (experts predict GDP of $25.3 trillion by 2024 – a fifth larger than China’s), but there’s an uncomfortable truth this masks. According to data published this week by anti-poverty group, Oxfam America, some 52 million workers – or one-third of the nation’s labor force – earn less than $15 per hour. As ever, the penury faced by low paid workers is felt hardest by women. Some 40% of female workers earn less than this threshold, but only 25% of men do. Meanwhile 47% of black workers and 46% of Hispanic workers make less than $15 an hour, compared with 26% of white employees. For singles parents, it’s 58% that earn less than $15 per hour. Some states are worse payers than others. In Texas more than 60% of women of color earn less than $15 an hour. In Mississippi, 45% of the state’s workforce makes less than that amount. By contrast, Washington, DC, has a minimum wage of $15.20 an hour. Although President Joe Biden did seek to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, the Senate parliamentarian ruled against including it in the Covid-19 relief bill.

but women are scooping the biggest pay rises

Perhaps there is some better news on the pay front after all. According to a report this week in The Wall Street Journal, it’s women who are outpacing men when it comes to wage growth. Female wages were up 4.4% in February compared to a year earlier, vs. a 4.1% rise in male wages, according to the Atlanta Federal Reserve’s wage tracker. This recent rise is the sixth straight month where women’s wage growth has outpaced men’s. Female wage gains exceeded male gains by 0.5 percentage point in December, matching the widest margin for records dating back to 1997. According to the WSJ, these recent rises mean women have regained some of the ground they lost at the start of the pandemic. The report also notes that women who switched jobs got the largest increases. Some 31% of women who changed jobs during the pandemic got a compensation package – including salary and bonus – that was more than 30% higher than in their previous role.

Disney employees illustrate a point

Staff at the ‘House of Mouse’ walked out at locations across America this week to continue their protest at CEO Bob Chapek’s lacklustre response to Florida legislation that LGBTQ advocates have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Staff branded his response to a bill that would prohibit instruction about “sexual orientation or gender identity” in kindergarten as weak. It also drew confusion for saying the “biggest impact” Disney could make was by “creating a more inclusive world through the inspiring content we produce.” According to NBC News: “The furor underscores a new reality for corporate titans, especially in the media and entertainment industries: Employees are increasingly unafraid to push back against policies they view as offensive or wrongheaded.”

Workplaces ‘in denial’ about how much Americans have changed

According to an article in this week’s Guardian, US workplaces still haven’t grasped – or are simply in denial about – the permanent change to the American psyche caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. As normality begins to return, it argues “company leaders still want the old version of the all-American work ethic that was dependent on hustle culture and productivity.” Leaders have failed to notice, it claims, the numbers of people reporting depression (a whopping 31% in the $20-$45,000 earning bracket); and they’ve also failed to notice demand for higher pay (42%) and more flexible hours (34%). It notes that more strikes have happened in the last two years, and more people are resigning too – a sign that all is not well in corporate America. “Workers now know this current economy is not built for this new world,” it concludes.

Business travel is back on people’s bucket lists

Years spent sitting at a screen, working from home, and barely going out are taking its toll – and Americans yearn to be able to go on real-life business trips again. That’s according to data published in Travel Pulse, from the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA). It found 64% of employed Americans are ready to get back on a train or plane and start business travel again, with 80% of Americans and 86% of business travellers agreeing that face-to-face interactions were most important for maximizing company success. It also revealed 61% and 74% agreed that in-person meetings and business travel build organizational strength in a way that virtual interactions can’t. “The last two years of virtual work arrangements and travel restrictions have underscored the importance of travel and face-to-face meetings for businesses, employees and customers alike,” said AHLA president, Chip Rogers. “These results are proof of this.”

UBS to let US staff work from home permanently

Bloomberg this week reported that Swiss bank, UBS Group, intends to let some of its U.S. employees permanently work from home. The report claims around 10% of staff will be able to work this way, while 70% will be hybrid, and 10-15% will work in its offices a full-time. The firm has around 20,500 American employees, and the move is said to be partly a recruitment and retention tool. Tom Naratil, president of UBS Americas said: “Someone may find at a particular point in their life – maybe because of a family situation – that they may want to be 100% remote.” According to Bloomberg, globally around 86% of its employees want more flexibility around the way they work.

Senators introduce Employee Rights Act 2022

More than 20 Republican Senators have joined forces to introduce the Employee Rights Act of 2022 – with the aim of giving American workers and small businesses more choices and flexibility in the workplace. The bill is said to counter the Biden Administration’s efforts under the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act that would reportedly limit worker options and override state right-to-work laws. The newly introduced legislation updates and modernizes the Employee Rights Act to include new protections for independent contractors, franchisees, entrepreneurs and anyone seeking flexible work options. According to the new act “strengthens employees’ privacy, protections against union coercion, eliminates needless disparities and provides all employees, independent contractors and new gig economy workers the necessary protections to ensure economic stability.” The act is supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Restaurant Association, Institute for the American Worker, International Franchise Association, National Federation of Independent Businesses, the National Restaurant Association, the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council and others.





This article is part of a series called The Most Interesting HR Stories of the Week.