Americans say Wall St. has too much power, but CEO pay keeps climbing

By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, December 15, 2011 15:10 EDT
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A protester at "Occupy San Francisco." Photo: Flickr user Michael Prados.
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Executive pay in 2010 was up as much as 40 percent in some cases, even as Americans’ approval of mega-corporations on Wall Street plunged to its lowest levels yet, data released this week reveals.

In a study first examined by The Guardian, U.S. executive pay skyrocketed in 2010, up 40 percent. America’s highest paid executive, John Hammergren, CEO of health insurance company McKesson, earned more than $145 million in compensation for a single year’s work.

Corporate governance group GMI Ratings also found that the overall median for executive profits on stock options also rose in 2010, up 70 percent thanks in large part to many corporations seeing sizable profits as the economy recovered from a near dead-stop in 2008.

In spite of soaring corporate profits and executive pay, hiring has has only seen marginal improvement. Recent government studies place the overall unemployment rate at 8.6 percent, although unemployment claims are at the lowest they’ve been in nearly four years.

Meanwhile, Americans’ opinions of mega-corporations and Wall Street in general could hardly be lower. A survey released Thursday by the Pew Research Center found that even among Republicans, often the most pro-business political party in the U.S., a slim majority (53 percent) agree that wealthy people and large corporations have too much power.

Overall, Pew found that 77 percent of the public feel that political power has become too concentrated into the hands of America’s wealthy class. A further 61 percent said the economic system as a whole has become skewed to favor wealth, and 51 percent agreed that Wall Street does more harm than good for the economy.

In another stark message for policymakers, Pew also found that a record percentage of Americans would like to see their own member of Congress lose their next reelection effort.

Two in three voters said that incumbents in general should not be reelected, but when it came specifically to their local representative, just 50 percent said they deserve another term. Overall, 33 percent said they did not. Among independents, it’s even worse: 43 percent agreed their member should be fired, while just 37 percent said they deserve reelection.

Fifty-five percent also agreed that “the political system can work fine, it’s the members that are the problem,” while just 32 percent felt like the system had broken down entirely.

Photo: Flickr user Michael Prados.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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