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Increasingly, large corporations like Walmart and McDonald’s are buckling under pressure to better support their employees. The long overdue yet somewhat lackluster result: these companies have started to offer their low-wage workers slightly higher wages and a few basic benefits. Walmart, for example, announced in February that it would raise wages for its lowest paid employees to at least $9 an hour, and McDonald’s announced in April that, in addition to increased wages, employees may now accrue up to five days in paid time off per year. These concessions are certainly improvements for low-wage workers, but the recent financial crisis has created somewhat of a “rearview mirror effect.” In other words: Warning— victories may be smaller than they appear.

But as the economy strengthens and employers find themselves in a buyer’s market for low wage jobs, companies like Walmart will need to act more aggressively to keep their employees happy—especially with the increasingly attractive benefits, including tuition reimbursement, offered to employees of Starbucks and Chipotle.

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