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CEOs are making almost 200 times what workers are

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Posted at 11:08 PM, Jun 04, 2024

New York (CNN) — CEOs are raking in fat pay packages as the US stock market booms.

Bosses have always made more money than workers. But the gap between CEOs and employees is growing.

The median CEO in the S&P 500 was paid 196 times as much as the median employee in 2023, according to an analysis by Equilar and The Associated Press.

That’s up from a ratio of 185 in 2022.

The widening divide is driven by the fact that CEO pay — which is closely tied to share prices — is rising notably faster than that of employees. Many workers, in fact, are struggling to keep up with the cost of living.

The jump in 2023 alone was significant. Median total compensation for S&P 500 CEOs (including stock awards) soared to $16.3 million in 2023 — a huge year-over-year increase of 12.6%, compared to just 0.9% in 2022.

Workers made more money, too. But at a much slower pace.

The median S&P 500 employee earned $81,467 last year, up 5.2% from 2022, the report said.

To put it another way: The annual pay hike amounted to about $4,300 for workers. For CEOs, it was an extra $1.5 million.

Those findings are likely frustrating to employees grappling with high costs for everything from groceries and daycare to car insurance. The rate of inflation in the United States has dropped, but it remains above normal.

Paychecks are growing faster than prices, a turnaround from 2021 and 2022. Yet workers are still hurting from the cumulative impact of three years of high inflation.

Americans are spending $1,015 more per month than they did in 2021 for the same basket of goods and services, according to Moody’s Analytics. That spike in costs almost completely swallows up the increase in incomes, which are up $1,109 per month over that span, Moody’s said.

“The results show that boards and CEOs remain tone deaf related to outrageous pay packages,” Eleanor Bloxham, CEO of The Value Alliance, a firm that advises boards on corporate governance, told CNN.

Bloxham said boards and CEOs are “absolutely responsible” for ensuring that workers share in financial success. “To not do so puts future earnings at risk because good workers will take action and vote with their feet,” she added.

Cashing in on the market boom

CEO pay is closely related to the fate of the stock market. Although most CEOs earn a salary and get perks, most of their total compensation is typically from stock rewards.

Stock awards made up about 70% of total compensation last year, according to the Equilar study.

Given the rising stock market, the median stock award increased by 10.7% to $9.4 million, the report found.

Last year, the S&P 500 soared 24% as investors breathed a sigh of relief that the economy did not plunge into a recession and looked forward to potential interest rate cuts from the Federal Reserve. The Nasdaq surged by 43% last year, powered by the artificial intelligence boom.

Even though the stubborn inflation has prevented the Fed from lowering rates so far this year, the S&P 500 has climbed another 11% since the start of the year to all-time highs. That suggests CEO pay packages could get even bigger this year.

The $162 million CEO

No CEO in the S&P 500 came close to the total pay of Broadcom CEO Hock Tan, who raked in $161.8 million last year.

Tan’s massive payday was fueled almost entirely by stock awards after Broadcom’s share price nearly doubled last year. The Broadcom CEO’s compensation doubled in 2023, leaving him with 510 times the median salary of employees at the company.

The next-closest CEO in terms of pay last year was FICO CEO William Lansing, according to Equilar. Lansing’s total compensation hit $66.3 million last year.

Apple CEO Tim Cook was the third-highest paid CEO in the S&P 500, raking in $63.2 million last year, 672 times that of the median Apple employee’s pay of $94,118.

The pay gap is even starker at some companies that rely on hourly, part-time workers.

For instance, Barbara Rentler, the CEO of clothing retailer Ross Stores, received $18.1 million in total compensation last year. The median Ross employee — a part-time hourly retail store associate — made $8,618. That means Rentler made 2,100 times as much as her median employee.