COVID-19

Pay cuts spreading beyond executive suite

Meghan McCarty Carino Apr 2, 2020
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As pay cuts spread further down from the executive suite, they hit average workers harder. Above, cashiers wearing protective masks work in a grocery store in Brooklyn on April 2. Stephanie Keith/Getty Images
COVID-19

Pay cuts spreading beyond executive suite

Meghan McCarty Carino Apr 2, 2020
As pay cuts spread further down from the executive suite, they hit average workers harder. Above, cashiers wearing protective masks work in a grocery store in Brooklyn on April 2. Stephanie Keith/Getty Images
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Unemployment is spiking across the country and many of those managing to keep their jobs are getting paid less. It started with top executives at large household-name companies like Disney, Columbia, Lyft and Marriott cutting their pay — sometimes to zero — to keep their companies going during the downturn. Now cuts are trickling down below the major executive suites: at big law firms, at places like the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, SoulCycle and the medical device giant Boston Scientific.

Los Angeles copywriter Laura Cohn is among those who got a call from her employer with some good-news-bad-news: she could stay on, for now, but with fewer hours and about a 30% pay cut.

“To at least be working a little bit and to have a small amount of income coming in is better than nothing,” she said.

Her husband lost his job as an office manager a couple weeks ago, so Cohn was glad her employer stopped at cutting her pay and hours. “They opted to keep people employed,” she said. “We’re all in this together.”

UCLA management professor David Lewin hopes more firms will take this approach first before cutting jobs. “You can get to exactly the same labor cost reduction objective,” he said

The upside for workers is keeping their benefits and usually a higher income than what they’d get with unemployment insurance, while businesses have an easier time recovering when they avoid layoffs.

But there are downsides, said Paul Davis, a professor of human resource studies at the Cornell Industrial and Labor Relations School. In past downturns, job cuts have been favored over pay cuts by many businesses, because pay cuts can lower productivity and push the highest-achieving workers to leave the company.

The unprecedented nature of the current crisis could change that. “I think that workers are going to be a little more understanding and a little more amenable, at least initially,” he said.

But as pay cuts spread further down the ladder from the executive suite, he said, they have a broader impact on the economy and hit average working people harder.

Laura Cohn doesn’t have to worry about the roof over her head; she’s staying rent-free with family. But she has other bills coming due. And she’s lost a chunk of her paycheck.

“That was basically our health insurance premium,” she said — something she can’t afford to skip in the middle of a pandemic.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

How many people are flying? Has traveled picked up?

Flying is starting to recover to levels the airline industry hasn’t seen in months. The Transportation Security Administration announced on Oct. 19 that it’s screened more than 1 million passengers on a single day — its highest number since March 17. The TSA also screened more than 6 million passengers last week, its highest weekly volume since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While travel is improving, the TSA announcement comes amid warnings that the U.S. is in the third wave of the coronavirus. There are now more than 8 million cases in the country, with more than 219,000 deaths.

How are Americans feeling about their finances?

Nearly half of all Americans would have trouble paying for an unexpected $250 bill and a third of Americans have less income than before the pandemic, according to the latest results of our Marketplace-Edison Poll. Also, 6 in 10 Americans think that race has at least some impact on an individual’s long-term financial situation, but Black respondents are much more likely to think that race has a big impact on a person’s long-term financial situation than white or Hispanic/Latinx respondents.

Find the rest of the poll results here, which cover how Americans have been faring financially about six months into the pandemic, race and equity within the workplace and some of the key issues Trump and Biden supporters are concerned about.

What’s going to happen to retailers, especially with the holiday shopping season approaching?

A report out recently from the accounting consultancy BDO USA said 29 big retailers filed for bankruptcy protection through August. And if bankruptcies continue at that pace, the number could rival the bankruptcies of 2010, after the Great Recession. For retailers, the last three months of this year will be even more critical than usual for their survival as they look for some hope around the holidays.

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