Both average compensation and pay ratios grew in 2020 during the pandemic. Executives’ average total compensation increased more than $700,000 last year while CEO-to-worker pay ratios increased from 264:1 in 2019.
“This is consistent with what we’ve been seeing year to year,” Liz Shuler, AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer, said in a press conference with reporters Wednesday. “Inequality, the imbalance in our economy, is clear by this report that the pay of CEOs and working people continues to be a major problem in this country.”
Companies in the consumer discretionary industry, including retailers like Amazon, had the highest disparity with an average 741:1 CEO-to-worker ratio.
“The only reason we’re reaching the other side of the Covid-19 pandemic is because working people stepped up,” Shuler said. “We hear so many business leaders calling these workers essential and calling them heroes, but words are not enough. We have always been essential, doing the critical work to make this country hum.”
An ongoing conversation
The difference between executives’ pay compared to other workers at big corporations has been of growing interest since the 2008 recession, when federal officials mandated that companies publicly disclose that data.
Giving up pay might not have meant big losses for executives either though. Base pay is only a fraction of an executive’s total compensation, which is usually comprised of performance-based compensation such as stocks, options and bonuses.
Despite a slight decrease in CEO base pay, CEOs enjoyed increases in their equity compensation, especially in stock-based pay, which increased over $1 million last year.
For example, while the average CEO salary at S&P 500 companies was a little more than $1 million, performance-based compensation accounted for an additional $14 million, bringing the average total compensation to more than $15 million last year.
On average, CEOs of S&P 500 companies saw their total compensation grow 5% in 2020 while the disclosed median employee pay grew only 1% at those same companies.
The growing difference between CEO and worker pay comes after a year of economic turmoil and in the midst of a recovering economy.
Jobless rates for demographic groups also show that the pandemic’s economic hardships are still mostly shouldered by low-income workers and non-White workers.