There’s been a lot of moaning on about inequality recently — some are even predicting it will be the big issue in next year’s Canadian federal election — but the eye-popping figures being tossed around (CEOs being paid hundreds of times the average wage) are very much a case of statistical cherry-picking:
Before retiring to their districts for the fall, the House Democratic Caucus rallied behind the CEO/Employee Pay Fairness Act, which would prevent a public company from deducting executive compensation over $1 million unless it also gives rank-and-file employees raises that keep pace with the cost of living and labor productivity.
Meanwhile, the AFL-CIO and its aligned think tanks have made hay of the huge difference between the pay of CEOs and employees. One of the most widely cited measures of the “gap” comes from the AFL-CIO’s Executive Paywatch website.
- The nation’s largest federation of unions laments that “corporate CEOs have been taking a greater share of the economic pie” while wages have stagnated for the rest of us.
- As proof, it points to a 331-to-1 gap in compensation between America’s chief executives and the pay of the average worker.
That’s a sizable number. But don’t grab the pitchforks just yet, says Mark J. Perry, economic professor at the University of Michigan-Flint and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and Michael Saltsman, research director at the Employment Policies Institute.
The AFL-CIO calculated a pay gap based on a very small sample — 350 CEOs from the S&P 500. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 248,760 chief executives in the U.S. in 2013.
- The BLS reports that the average annual salary for these chief executives is $178,400, which we can compare to the $35,239-per-year salary the AFL-CIO uses for the average American worker.
- That shrinks the executive pay gap from 331-to-1 down to a far less newsworthy number of roughly five-to-one.