In August 2019, CEOs of 181 of the largest, most profitable, and most influential companies in America committed to move toward a more inclusive model of capitalism and pay their workers “fairly.” Two years ago, the COVID-19 pandemic put these corporate commitments to the test. In a new report—“Profits and the pandemic: As shareholder wealth soared, workers were left behind”—Brookings authors provide groundbreaking pandemic-era analysis on 22 of the nation’s and world’s largest companies, helping discern whether America’s iconic companies have lived up to their own pledges to create a more equitable economy.
Examining the pay practices and financial outcomes over nearly two years (January 2020 – October 2021) at some of the world’s best-known and most popular brands in sectors spanning retail, delivery, fast food, hotels, and entertainment—including Amazon, Disney, McDonald’s, FedEx, Home Depot, and Hilton—the new report finds that company shareholders grew $1.5 trillion richer, while 7 million workers (more than half of whom are nonwhite) at these 22 companies received $27 billion in additional pay—or less than 2% of that benefit. Due to a combination of high inflation and a low starting point, the vast majority of workers still earn too little to get by.
On Tuesday, April 26, Brookings Metro hosted an event coinciding with the publication of the report. The event explored how to build a more equitable model of capitalism and a new balance of power between executives, shareholders, and other stakeholders, such as workers, government, and society at large. Speakers included public and private sector leaders, as well as workers on the frontlines of unionization efforts.