And, according to security filings, a select few are rapidly accumulating new fortunes. Chad Richison, founder and chief executive of an Oklahoma software company, Paycom, is worth more than $3 billion and was awarded $211 million last year, when his company made $144 million in profit. John Legere, the former chief executive of T-Mobile, was awarded $137.2 million last year, a reward for taking over the rival Sprint.
“We’ve created this class of centimillionaires and billionaires who have not been good for this country,” said Nell Minow, vice chair of ValueEdge Advisors, an investment consulting firm. “They may build a wing on a museum. But it’s not infrastructure — it’s not the middle class.”
The gap between executive compensation and average worker pay has been growing for decades. Chief executives of big companies now make, on average, 320 times as much as their typical worker, according to the Economic Policy Institute. In 1989, that ratio was 61 to 1. From 1978 to 2019, compensation grew 14 percent for typical workers. It rose 1,167 percent for C.E.O.s.
The pandemic only compounded these disparities, as hundreds of companies awarded their leaders pay packages worth significantly more than most Americans will make in their entire lives.
“To my mind, they’re the logical consequence of our total embrace of shareholder capitalism, starting with the corporate raiders of the 1980s, to the exclusion and sacrifice of all else, including American workers,” said Robert Reich, a labor secretary under President Bill Clinton. “The pay packages reflect soaring share prices, which in turn reflect, at least in part, the willingness if not eagerness of corporations to cut payrolls at the slightest provocation.”
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AT&T, the media conglomerate, lost $5.4 billion and cut thousands of jobs throughout the year. John Stankey, the chief executive, received $21 million for his work in 2020, down from $22.5 million in 2019.
T-Mobile said it would create new jobs through its merger with Sprint, but has already begun layoffs. It made $3.1 billion in 2020. In addition to Mr. Legere’s windfall, the company awarded its current chief executive, Mike Sievert, $54.9 million.