As companies give bonuses after tax reform, prospect of pay gains still hazy

Dozens of companies announced $1,000 bonuses for workers after passage of the Republican tax plan. But so far, most companies haven’t said whether any permanent pay increases are in the works.

WASHINGTON — American Airlines is handing out $1,000 bonuses to its employees. So are AT&T, Bank of America, Comcast and JetBlue. The same for Alaska Air and First Financial Northwest in the Seattle area.

Such announcements, coming from dozens of companies, have followed the passage of the Republican tax plan that President Donald Trump signed into law last month. The plan slashed the corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent. The companies say the bonuses they’ve announced are a way to share some of their bounty with their workers.

The bonuses are one-time payouts, not the permanent pay raises that Trump and congressional Republicans have said will eventually result from the corporate tax cuts. Over time, bonuses are far less valuable to employees than wage increases.

So far, most companies haven’t said whether any permanent pay increases are in the works. Economists caution that the corporate income-tax cut’s effect on average pay, if any, might not become apparent for several years.

“As a worker, it’s great to get a one-off bonus, but that doesn’t guarantee anything for the next year,” said Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont. “You’d rather have the raise, because next year you’re working off the higher base.”

Eventually, Stanley thinks the lower corporate tax rates will lead to worker pay raises. He expects companies over the next several years to use some of their windfalls to invest in equipment that would make workers more productive and lead to higher wages.

Other economists remain skeptical that workers stand to receive sharp wage increases. They note that the corporate tax cut will overwhelmingly benefit shareholders and company owners. That sentiment is one reason stock-market indexes are setting new highs almost daily.

“The bulk of the corporate tax cuts should accrue to people who hold stock in companies,” said Ethan Harris, chief economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “Workers benefit much more from a cut in taxes on ordinary income. In other words, better to get a direct cut than a spillover from cuts to others.”

Beyond the worker bonuses that have been announced, typically for $1,000, about a dozen banks have said they will raise their minimum wages. A…

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