National Consumers League

Sitting on mountains of cash, U.S. corporations do too little to reduce income inequality

larry The question of income and asset inequality has certainly moved center stage. Demands for an increase in the minimum wage are being met by howls of protest, and complaints about skyrocketing executive compensation, alas, are being met with apparent indifference in corporate boardrooms. So the struggle for justice continues, and NCL is right in there, as we have been since 1899.

There’s another player in this drama, though, that doesn’t get the same attention, even though it may have an even greater impact. That’s the fact that U.S. corporations are sitting on top of mountains of cash, but they’re not investing in creating new jobs. With the big increases in stock value — the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained more than 28% in 2013! — a reasonable person might think, why, let’s use some of this new wealth to help out all those unemployed Americans, our fellow citizens!

What are many corporations doing instead? They’re buying back their own stock, which increases the value of the shares still available to be traded. Great, if you’re a shareholder. If you’re one of the millions who lost their jobs in the great recession and whose unemployment benefits have just run out, not so good.

What can we do about it? If you are a shareholder, agitate! Let the company know you want it to invest in jobs, in community development, in public health. Tell the executive leadership to get off the sidelines. If you’re a public employee, contact your retirement system managers and tell them you don’t want them investing in companies that are basically on strike against unemployed and underpaid U.S. workers.