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CEO pay has risen 127% more than worker pay over last 30 years

May 4, 2012

Depressing study of the day says: In the last 30 years, the average inflation-adjusted pay for working Americans has risen 5.7%. In that same time, the average inflation-adjusted pay for CEOs has risen 725%.

In 2012, when Occupy Wall Street asked the question “What do they want?”, it was tough to answer. The protests didn’t issue any specific demands and, while they were really effective at raising awareness that something was wrong, no one could say exactly what it was. Was it high unemployment? Wall Street greed? What does Wall Street greed even mean specifically?

This new study, as reported by Think Progress, should provide a crystal clear talking point: Wage inequality. Things like unemployment rates and worker productivity are constantly fluctuating and affected by such a confusing web of factors, it’s hard to say exactly what they should be, or to attach a sense of moral imperative to them. But when average CEO pay has increased 725% and average worker pay has increased 5%, you know something’s wrong.

In, fact, it’s even worse than that. The study shows that the higher up the economic ladder you go, the greater the disparity becomes:

The average annual earnings of the top 1 percent of wage earners grew 156 percent from 1979 to 2007; for the top 0.1 percent they grew 362 percent. In contrast, earners in the 90th to 95th percentiles had wage growth of 34 percent, less than a tenth as much as those in the top 0.1 percent tier. Workers in the bottom 90 percent had the weakest wage growth, at 17 percent from 1979 to 2007.

More and more wealth is accumulating at a smaller and smaller point at the top of the economic pyramid. The result, as Think Progress points out, is that economic inequality in America is now worse than it is in Pakistan.

Of course, over time this results in Americans having less and less money to spend on the products companies make, which CEOs will react to by increasing productivity (maintaining output with fewer workers), which will lead to higher unemployment and less consumer spending, with what’s left of it filtering to a shrinking point at the top-top of the economic pyramid.

This doesn’t sound like a place 99% want to live. Reversing this 30-year trend should be Occupy’s mission. It’s a tall order.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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