Be Skeptical of Amazon's Minimum Wage Hike

With so much dispiriting news about wealth and inequality, it's no wonder we latch on hard to the first bit of hope we hear. This week, Amazon, the 800-ton gorilla of 800-lb gorillas, announced that its much-lamented, much-mistreated fulfillment workers would be getting a raise — a big one. Minimum wage at Amazon will leapfrog up to $15 an hour starting next month.

This should be great news: The federal minimum wage, much less city and state wages, have a lot of catching up to do with the cost of living. Unfortunately, there's a pretty significant catch. While floor workers will start making $15 an hour, they will also lose both monthly bonuses and stock awards. Some workers say this move will actually reduce what they bring home for the same amount of work.

Minimum-wage workers are far more likely to be women and working parents than teens with after-school jobs. Policy research has found that raising wages by even $1 can have huge beneficial ripple effects for employees and local economics alike. Meanwhile, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has just been named the richest man in the world; one estimate finds he earns an Amazon worker's yearly salary every 9 seconds.

Some critics call success like that a massive failure. If you want to make a statement about the company, it's almost impossible to boycott. Amazon wields power on an economic, cultural and political scale that's basically unheard of, and it's important to keep that in mind. That said, it's also worth hoping that more companies follow in its minimum-wage footsteps — at least, without depriving workers of whatever gains they've already got.