Examples of average worker wages at Wendy's, Wal-Mart, and Costco. (Source: CNN Money)
See that chart above? It explains a lot of things about the average American worker. It also explains that we, as Americans, can do more to earn better pay, even in this stagnant economy. CNN Money contacted employees at three different service industry companies, seeking information about wages and benefits: Fast food chain Wendy's, big-box retailer Wal-Mart, and warehouse retailer Costco. The chart above basically explains all that is offered to the average worker in terms of wages, benefits, and career paths. While Wendy's and Wal-Mart come across as unsurprising, Costco comes out as a big surprise: A wage that is particularly above what many consider a living wage of $15 per hour, plus benefits and a chance to grow within the organization.
There is a caveat to be made for Costco: The warehouse store charges a $55 annual membership fee to shop at its store, which is a typical practice for these kinds of retailers, also known as warehouse clubs. Thus, it has a better intake of cash to spend on workers. Still, the very fact that Costco, which earned nearly $3 billion in profits, can still make an honest effort to compensate their workers decently says a lot of things about the priorities of those in the service industry. It's also little wonder that Costco received the praise recently of President Obama in a speech. Plus, there are other service industry companies that pay well: Apple Store pays a minimum $14 an hour in San Francisco (making things bearable to live in the expensive Bay Area), and elsewhere provides wages well above the minimum, especially if you provide tech support. In-N-Out Burgers pay their workers well above minimum wage. These two places could afford to spend a little more on their workers, but the point remains the same.
There are many reasons to pay workers better, but the main one remains key: Better wages mean more growth. Precisely because the spending habits of Americans have shifted from credit-based to wage-based, and thus living within one's means, increasing wages will lead to more consumer spending, which in turn leads to more growth. Furthermore, better wages obviously increase productivity, which in turn makes employees more loyal to the company. That corporations are responding by focusing on austerity shows how much actual change needs to happen on the wage front.