North Texas Daily

Billionaires forget they owe their wealth to their underpaid employees

Billionaires forget they owe their wealth to their underpaid employees

Billionaires forget they owe their wealth to their underpaid employees
July 29
12:00 2023

With the celebrations of millionaires and billionaires, it is beneficial to put some things into perspective. Wealth on such immensely unfathomable levels calls into question these businesses’ moral and ethical reverence and requires investigation into the systems that allow such cosmic capital to develop. 

The wealth gap has been immensely significant since the 1990s and has seen its most consequential growth in the last two decades, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The COVID-19 pandemic marked a time when America’s wealthiest broke records. Sequencing the timeframe of these events, from Jan. 1, 2020, to April 28, 2021, precisely 483 days, American billionaires’ collective wealth rose 35 percent, or about $1.2 trillion, according to Forbes. At the start of 2023, the top ten percent of earners possessed about 69 percent of the wealth in the U.S. That leaves the remaining ninety percent of the U.S. population to distribute approximately 31 percent of the country’s wealth.

It’s almost laughably ironic that the wealthiest country in the world is also suffering from wage stagnation. Since the 1970s, wage and productivity have developed a concerning disconnect. However, wage gains only benefit the top earners. In contrast, an hourly wage of $23.68 has about the same purchasing power as a $4.03 hourly wage from 1973, according to The Pew Research Center. 

This means that most Americans’ hourly wages peaked about 50 years ago. Many Americans still struggle to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, which left 57 percent of working-age Americans unemployed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. With income inequality growing rapidly, it is surreal that our daily news has headlines about the exploits of the wealthy gone wrong, like the OceanGate Expedition implosion or the breaking down of the many million-dollar watches spotted at Michael Rubin’s birthday party. The foolish and condescending behavior of the ultra-wealthy carries real societal impacts that have been ignored and silenced for far too long. We are now seeing a do-or-die scenario where change must happen for the working class. 

There has been increasing coverage of the writer’s strike of the SAG-AFTRA union this past week, yet some walkouts by screenwriters began in May 2023. The writers have noted requesting job security from AI, but more importantly, congruous compensation. The last strike in Hollywood was in 2007. This strike lasted 100 days and cost the Los Angeles economy an estimated $2.1 billion, according to The New York Times. Even so, the Hollywood studios claim they are doing their best to compensate their actors and writers appropriately, as they argue that the changing methods of entertainment, such as streaming, are something they are still working out. Some even go as far as to argue that those on strike are greedy in their demands. 

There is a discordant narrative around many multi-billion-dollar companies claiming that underpaying employees is only a means to recovering from COVID-19. There is an evident disconnect between the CEOs and the daily lives of their employees. There have been strikes beyond simply Hollywood. Amazon employees had a strike in Seattle at the end of May 2023, there is a looming UPS strike and a recent nurses strike in Austin over a money-saving scheme that resulted in chronic under-staffing. 

The reality of billionaires in a country leisurely crashing and burning from late-stage capitalism is the working-class pay the price. Employees of multi-billion-dollar companies are the first to go when CEOs can no longer afford their 3rd vacation house. Not only this, but the employees who survive layoffs must compensate for these losses. While many argue that these companies foster jobs, boost the economy and improve the status of the U.S., it is clear that the everyday lives of the laborers are blatantly ignored. Research from the Socio-Economic Review found that the tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy have failed to trickle down and only worsened the income inequality gap. 

Clearly, there is a genuine disconnect between working-class Americans with their yacht-enjoying bosses. However, many people are still reaping these benefits and ensuring that many of these laborers are too exhausted from trying to match record levels of productivity to create a consequential strike. Despite these efforts, workers are finding meaningful ways to get the attention of their higher-ups. Laborers hold the power. Without the working class, companies will feel the weight of their actions as their 0’s disappear. It is more important now than ever that we remain united with others – billionaires do not exist for their workers, they exist because of them, and that is the collective power that direly needs to be recognized. 

Featured Illustration by Isabella Isquierdo

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Marianna Fresquez

Marianna Fresquez

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