Listen to Hidden Brain

hiddenbrainEach time when I commute with BART to San Francisco State University, I put on my sound cancelling headphones to block out the screeching sounds of the wheels scrapping against the rails and listen to the superb pod cast, Hidden Brain. This podcast is hosted by NPR social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam and links research from psychology and neurobiology with findings from economics, anthropology, and sociology, among other field

It uses science and storytelling to reveal the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, and the biases that shape our choices (text adapted from: Hidden Brain.

I continue to be surprised by the remarkable knowledge presented in a storytelling format that is “a conversation about life’s unseen patterns.”  As I listen, the commute time disappears and I have a front row seat to an outstanding podcast.

A token raise for some JPMorgan Chase employees: Jamie Dimon earns more in three hours that what his employees earn in a whole year

“How can you live with yourself, Jami Dimon, when you earn more  in  three hours work than what your employees earn in a whole year?”


Today in a remarkable New York Times op-ed, “Why We’re Giving Our Employees a Raise,” by Jamie Dimon, chairman and chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, appeared to address the economic inequality. As stated in the op-ed, “Over the next three years, we will raise the minimum pay for 18,000 employees to between $12 and $16.50 an hour for full-time, part-time and new employees, depending on geographic and market factors.

A pay increase is the right thing to do. Wages for many Americans have gone nowhere for too long. Many employees who will receive this increase work as bank tellers and customer service representatives. Above all, it enables more people to begin to share in the rewards of economic growth.”

These words seem to announce a new corporate responsibility and that Wall Street and that the upper 1% have finally recognized that the other 99% are suffering. The facts are different when looking at the actual data. The salary for these  18,000 employees will increase from $10.15 to between $12 and $16.50 an hour, an average increase of 40% to $14.25 per hour over a three year period. Each of these employee works an average of 30 hours a week and their annual salary–assuming that they work 52 weeks a year–will increase from $15,834 to $22,230.  This looks like a great raise; however, it does not even cover the average rent for a one bedroom apartment in San Francisco at $3500 per month ($42,000 per year) or in New York at $2700 per month ($32,400 per year).  Although it will cover the rent for a one bedroom apartment in Chicago at $1757 per month ($21,084 per year). It would leave $146 for all other expenses incurred during the year.

Although 18,000 employees is a large number, it is  only a small percentage of the bank’s 235,000 employees.  Do most of the others employees continue to work for poverty wages?

The actual cost to JPMorgan and Chase for this gracious socially responsible raise is slightly more than 115 million dollars ($115,128,000) per year). It will reduce JPMorgan and Chase 24.44 billion dollar profit for 2015 by less than 0.5%.  Yes, you read it correctly, the profit last year was 24.4 billion dollars.

All of a sudden, it is not such a generous offer especially since Jamie Dimon received a 35% raise this year–an increase from $20 million to $27 million dollars. This means his annual pay is more than 1200 times that of these lucky employees who will receive a raise. This means he earns in less than three hours what these employee slave for  during the whole year. That is obscene!

Thus, do not be taken in by Jamie Dimon’s caring and humanistic op-ed.  See it as it is, a self-serving corporate gesture that obscures the actual transfer of wealth from the employees to the top 1%.

What do numbers mean? How much does Walmart’s wage raise affect profits?

cartoonWalmart created  news when it announced that it will be paying its 500,000 employees more than the minimum wage. The largest increase would be an increase of the entry-level wage from the US minimum  $7.25 to $9 an hour; howver, the overall increase in minimal. As Jody Knauss and Mary Bottari point out, The company forecasts the average hourly wage for full-time workers to rise 15 cents an hour, from $12.85 to $13.00, while the average for part-timers will bump up from $9.48 to $10.00 per hour. This will still still leave most of its workers beneath the poverty level and relying on food stamps to make ends meet.

The actual cost of this wage raise for Walmart is one billion dollars.  This seems impressive; however, this number is not meaningful without knowing the financial state of the company. The company’s estimated profit for 2014 was  $16.36 billion on annual sales of $485 Billion.  For more details see the Walmart’s financial summary.

The one billion dollars to increase the salaries is an impressive sound bite, but it only a 6.1% decreases the company’s profits.  It will still leave more than 15 billion dollar in profit and more than 150 billion dollar wealth for its owners.  Given the profits and wealth, Walmart should be ashamed to keep its employees in poverty. It should offer its employees an actually living wage of at least $15 per hour.