Employees at the middle of the pay scale of an S&P 500 company would have to work nearly 200 years to earn as much as their CEO did last year. A typical compensation package for CEOs at these companies increased by nearly 13% in 2023, an Associated Press analysis found. Meanwhile, wages and benefits for private-sector employee rose by 4.1%.

"In this post-pandemic market, the desire is for boards to reward and retain CEOs when they feel like they have a good leader in place," Kelly Malafis, founding partner of Compensation Advisory Partners in New York, told the AP. "That all combined kind of leads to increased compensation."

Sarah Anderson, director of the Global Economy Project at the progressive Institute for Policy Studies, believes the gap in earnings between top executives and workers plays into overall dissatisfaction about the economy. "Most of the focus here is on inflation, which people are really feeling, but they're feeling the pain of inflation more because they're not seeing their wages go up enough," she said.

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