As the year comes to a close, corporate America is about the wrap up its fourth year of successive growth. Consider that total earnings of the blue-chip Standard & Poor's 500 companies have risen at double-digit percentage rates for the past eighteen consecutive quarters - to many financial analysts, an unprecedented streak. U.S. corporate profits have increased 21.3% in the past year and now account for the largest share of national income in 40 years, the Commerce Department reported last Thursday (Marketwatch).
But who has really benefited from these much lauded financial gains? Have the bulls running on Wall Street made their way to all streets?
No, "many companies' tight controls over spending...have helped earnings to balloon. And because labor is the largest expense for business overall, the damping of growth in wages and benefits has been a key contributor to corporate America's profit success in this decade" (The Seattle Times).
Corporate earnings generated in the United States totaled $1.42 trillion at an annualized rate in the third quarter, or 10.7 percent of the economy's gross domestic income, government data show. That was the highest share of income that companies claimed since the 1960s and was up from 6.2 percent at the end of 2000.
By contrast, total labor compensation accounted for 56.4 percent of gross domestic income in the period. That percentage has fallen from 58.4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2000 and has been in general decline since the early 1980s. (The Seattle Times)
To many rank-and-file workers, the booming bottom line serves solely as a reminder of what's absent from their own paychecks. John Sweeny, President of the AFL-CIO, certainly expressed as much in his editorial of December 12 asking for a renewed look at global labor standards: "Linking core international workers' rights to market access does three important things: It empowers workers and gives them a fighting chance to bargain for their fair share of the wealth they create; helps to build a middle class, so that workers can buy more of the goods they produce..."