WHEN I WAS A KID, I worked as a laborer for a carpenter. I made minimum wage: four bucks an hour. After school and on weekends, and six days a week during the summer, digging ditches, hauling cinder blocks, and running to the lumberyard. And that was enough money, along with a small scholarship--which fortunately, required only mediocre grades--to pay for what was then a pretty pricey private college.
I couldn't do that today--and not just because my back would hurt. The average private college costs four times what it did for me, yet the minimum wage has not even doubled. Even working full time for the federal minimum would pay only about one-third of the bill.
But that's not just my hypothetical problem. Today, many adults--not just school-age kids--previously employed in higher-wage manufacturing jobs have been reduced to roles that tend to come with minimum pay. And that's a bit of a problem. The rising tide we could all take advantage of, that created the middle class and markets for our goods and services, that made our economy the envy of the world, is in a kind of ebb.
I don't have a solution for that issue, and I know it's a contentious topic for the business founders who read Inc., but with our feature on the minimum wage, I find myself increasingly persuaded by those, including Mark Cuban, arguing that an increase is a good idea. Give it a read. I'd love to know what you think.
Speaking of thinking, whenever I'd offer an idea or observation to that carpenter I worked for, he'd say, "College boy, you don't get paid enough to think!" One time I replied, "Well, maybe you should pay me more." He threw his hammer at me.
Between the assault, and scrambling over roofs and into second- and third-story framing with no safety gear, and practical jokes like getting the mayonnaise in my brown-bag sandwich replaced with plaster, it was not the most enlightened workplace. No, it would not have made Inc.'s 2021 Best Workplaces list, as 429 highly deserving companies have. I'm awfully proud Inc. can publish such a list. As much as it is recognition for those companies, their stories are a primer on how progressive leaders might build their own workplaces--wherever they are.
I recall some of the workplaces of my youth. The memories are vivid, sun-washed, and sweaty, and they come with the smell of lumber and fresh sawdust and possibility, even though those places were being built for other people. In our cover story, Michael Dubin, having just resigned as CEO, visits the first home of Dollar Shave Club, an old two-car garage. This place and DSC itself are for other people now, too.
Dubin's old workplaces hold rich memories for him, as they would for any entrepreneur. That's clear when you read about the walking tour he gave us through the part of Los Angeles that was home to DSC over the past decade. The tour inspired him to reflect on his founder's journey--one that transformed him from a man sleeping in a garage to a man contemplating how to follow up the billion-dollar sale of a company he now leaves behind. That's the kind of challenge we should all hope to someday face--whether we're adjusting our payroll, trying to build a better workplace, or simply dodging hammers.