Corporate America Is Ponying Up for Workers Suddenly in Demand

  • U.S. wages are rising at the fastest pace in decades
  • But risks to the worker boon are mounting as virus cases surge


For the first time in decades, the American worker is finally in command when it comes time to talk money.

There are tell-tale signs everywhere that this is so.

Like the way some employers — such as Kroger Co., Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. and Under Armour Inc. — are frantically pushing up hourly wages to try to retain employees. Or the way others — like Starbucks Corp. and Drury Hotels — are dangling hiring bonuses to entry-level applicants. Or the way CVS Health Corp. is no longer requiring job seekers to have high-school diplomas. Or the way Dan Sacco, the owner of Your Pie restaurants in Iowa, is instructing his general managers to poach workers from rivals with offers of better hours and higher pay.

“Everything is fair game now,” Sacco says.

It is unclear how long all of this will last in the wild and disjointed economic recovery that’s followed last year’s pandemic collapse. But one thing is certain: Workers are scoring the fattest pay hikes since the early 1980s. Wages for the leisure and hospitality industry have surged at an annualized pace of 6.6% over the past two years. And data released Friday showed that payrolls rose nationally at the fastest pace in almost a year, a sign of how desperate employers are to fill jobs.

“If you’re not able to get staff to cover, it leaves you really crunched and that’s what we’re seeing at the moment,” said Neil Saunders, a managing director at market research firm GlobalData who covers retailers and grocers. “Wages have gone up and have been going up.”


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