As the 2016 presidential primaries draw closer, many candidates have begun to outline their economic plans, all touting to aid workers and raise the middle class. Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton shared her own economic plan, the centerpiece of which is increasing employee pay and raising income levels. As part of her plan, Clinton hopes to remedy stagnant wage growth with a "Rising Incomes, Sharing Profits" tax credit, which would award a two-year tax credit to companies that offer profit-sharing programs to employees. But, does profit-sharing actually spread the wealth to workers or does it have unintended consequences that could actually hurt the very employees it's supposed to help?
Clinton's proposed plan gives companies a two-year tax credit equal to 15% of the profits they share. As an example, an employee earning $50,000 a year could receive an additional $5,000 in profit-sharing and the company would then receive a tax credit of $750 per worker. The credit would only be available to companies that offered profit-sharing widely to workers and would phase out higher-income employees from the program.
Corporate profits, although lagging in the first half of the year, are still at an historic high and profit-sharing aims to distribute some corporate profits back to workers in order to raise employee wages and give workers a stake in company performance. Proponents of the plan assert that employees become stakeholders in a company under profit-sharing arrangements: when a company does well, employees share in the gains. Advocates claim that having an investment in a company's performance can lead to higher productivity, stronger employee loyalty, and higher incomes. Companies with profit-sharing plans had average compensation levels 8 percent higher than other comparable companies (National Bureau of Economic Research, 2012).
One example of profit-sharing being a win-win for both employees and companies is WinCo, an Oregon-based, employee-owned supermarket chain. The company offers its workers an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP), and more than 400 front-line, non-executive employees have accumulated over $1 million in retirement savings; within the last seven years, WinCo has paid out almost $1 billion to retirees (Forbes, 11/5/14). The grocery chain is visibly successful with 98 stores across the nation and an expected $6 billion in sales in 2015.
However, others worry that the program could actually harm the workers Clinton aims to help. Although typically bonuses from profit-sharing are in addition to normal wages, companies could try to replace some of their payroll with profit-sharing, which would harm middle-class workers that rely on consistent paychecks. Corporate profits, although high, can be erratic; for instance, during the Great Recession, profits plunged 16% (Fortune, 3/30/15). Workers that depend on reliable income could be hurt by wages being tied to their organization's performance. Skeptics of the idea also claim that the boons of profit-sharing are mostly theoretical and not enough economic research exists to prop up the idea that profit-sharing plans boost wages of middle-income workers.
Clinton's tax credit is only a proposal, and is likely only one of many that will come from a variety of presidential hopefuls in the coming months. But corporate profit-sharing is part of the larger debate around reversing wage stagnation and boosting middle-class workers.
Readers, would you want to work at company with profit-sharing? Is it a win for the economy and workers? Comment and let us know!