I was under the impression that most bosses hadn’t been handing out raises — except to themselves. Not so. While shopping at my neighborhood supermarket in Fort Washington recently, I noticed that some of my favorite foods got raises.
Chicken got a raise — a 2 percent price hike just in the last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Pork chops got a raise — up 7.4 percent last year.
Beef got a raise — a 19 percent increase last year. (At Whole Foods in the District, a porterhouse steak rakes in $15 a pound.)
All of which amounts to a pay cut for me, and to quite a few others, no doubt. According to a report last month by the Economic Policy Institute, “real hourly wages have declined for 90 percent of the workforce with four-year college degrees since 2007.” It’s called wage stagnation.
How much harder must it be for low-income and unemployed people to put food on the table.
In a report on hunger in America released in December, the U.S. Conference of Mayors noted a steep rise in request for emergency food assistance in the Washington area. High rents and escalating food costs were major causes — and the problem was expected to worsen in 2015.
Moreover, the mayors’ report said that “the Washington metro area is seeing growing numbers of low income individuals suffering from diet-related illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension.”
The USDA puts out annual cost estimates for preparing nutritious meals. Under the “Thrifty” plan, which is the least expensive, a family of four (two adults between the ages of 19 and 50 and two children between the ages of 6 and 11) could eat healthfully for $151.60 a week.
Judging from the prices I saw at the supermarket, they’ll be eating ramen noodles every other night.
“The most notable annual inflation increases were seen in the perimeter of the grocery store — retail beef and veal, pork, eggs, fish and seafood, dairy, and fresh fruit experienced above-average price increases,” according to a USDA Research Service update on March 3.
I did find a few bargains in the center aisles at the Safeway and Giant where I usually shop: sugar, cookies, chips, processed snacks, soft drinks. Diabetes at discount prices.
Some economists predict that rising employment could lead to a 3 percent increase in hourly wages this year. From the perspective of a grocery shopper, that would mean the average worker’s pay hike would be about one-tenth of the 30 percent rise in the cost of peanut butter since 2010.
Last Friday, I asked some of my fellow grocery shoppers if they got raises. It was an ice breaker for broaching such a sensitive subject. Most of them did not know that March 6 was the 20th anniversary of “National Employee Appreciation Day.” Apparently neither did their employers.
“I work for Metro,” one shopper told me, “and they don’t appreciate anybody.”
The EPI calls wage stagnation “the country’s central economic challenge.” Suggested fixes include raising the minimum wage, strengthening workers’ right to collective bargaining and ensuring that employees can earn paid sick leave and paid family leave.
Others have suggestions that the boss likely would find more appealing — such as giving employees a compliment instead of cash. According to results of an employee satisfaction survey, released last week to coincide with Employee Appreciation Day, hearing the boss say “good job” produces the same feeling as a modest raise.
“Many organizations turn to unique perks, pay raises, and benefits to keep employees happy, but creating a culture of gratitude could be just as impactful,” according to Kronos, a global workforce management software company headquartered in Massachusetts that commissioned the survey. “The power of ‘thank you’ cannot be underestimated.”
Of course, before leaving the supermarket, I was reminded that a thank you does not pay the grocery bill.