The Case for Worker Ownership

by John O’Neil, Tax Policy Analyst for American Sustainable Business Council

Rebuilding the post-recession economy will require more than just finding people jobs or ensuring they earn a living wage. We must support business models that will enable workers to own a piece of the company that employs them. For many people, worker ownership will be essential to restoring the American Dream.

Worker ownership benefits the company, the worker, and the community. The company benefits from greater worker commitment. The worker benefits from better compensation and greater job security, skills growth, and advancement opportunities. The community benefits from a source of more stable employment. That’s what true sustainability looks like.

Right now, we face two major challenges.

For one, we face a business-succession crisis. As millions of baby-boomer business owners retire over the next decade, thousands of small businesses will be put at risk. If bought by big competitors or private-equity firms, many will be consolidated and downsized. Those with more modest growth and profits may be closed for the lack of a buyer. Either way, we’ll risk job losses, less local ownership, and more income inequality.

We also face a retirement savings crisis. As many as nine in ten households save too little to finance their retirement, and millions of working people have saved nothing at all. Among the most vulnerable to the savings crisis are poor and minority households.

Worker ownership can help address both crises.

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