Three weeks ago, Dan Price took a $930,000 pay cut.
Growing income inequality had been on his mind for months. But as he went for a hike with a friend one afternoon and listened to her describe her struggle with rising rent prices, he realized he had to do something for his own employees.
So Price, the founder and CEO of Gravity Payments in Seattle, decided to raise the minimum salary at his 120-person payment processing company to $70,000. At a company where the average pay was $48,000 per year, the move -- which was first reported by The New York Times on Monday -- affected 70 workers, 30 of whom saw their salaries double.
Most of the money for these raises will come from cutting Price's salary -- which is now $70,000 per year rather $1 million. The rest will come out of the $2.2 million the company expects to earn in profit this year.
“There’s greater inequality today than there’s been since the Great Recession,” Price told The Huffington Post on Tuesday. “I’d been thinking about this stuff and just thought, ‘It’s time. I can’t go another day without doing something about this.’”
The $70,000 figure is just below the $75,000 salary pegged in a 2010 Princeton University study as an ideal benchmark for achieving happiness. About 28 percent of Americans said they would feel successful earning at most $70,000 per year, according to a 2012 survey from the jobs site CareerBuilder.
The pay cut won’t affect Price's lifestyle much. He has saved a lot of the money he has earned since starting Gravity in 2004. He said he has no plans to replace his 12-year-old Audi, which has clocked more than 140,000 miles. And his new salary will still allow him to pick up the bar tab for his friends once a month, he said.
“There will be sacrifices,” said Price, 30. “But once the company’s profit is back to the $2.2 million level, my pay will go back. So that’s good motivation.”
In the U.S., the average CEO earns more than 350 times what the average worker does. Seattle has become a hotbed in the fight for higher wages as the city phases in a $15 minimum wage, one of the highest in the country. The city is also home to wealthy investor Nick Hanauer, a self-styled champion for higher pay who has warned his fellow billionaires that pitchfork-wielding mobs will follow them to their private jets if income inequality isn’t addressed.
Rather than see this as a charitable offer to his workers, Price sees the pay raises as an investment. In theory, workers motivated by higher salaries will ultimately attract more business and handle clients better.
“This is a capitalist solution to a social problem,” Price said. “I think it pays for itself, I really do.”