If the typical CEO of a large U.S. corporation clocks in at 9 am on January 2, by 3:37 pm that afternoon he’ll have earned $58,260—the average annual salary for all U.S. occupations.
In other words, in less than seven hours on the first workday of the New Year, that CEO will have made as much as the average U.S. worker will make all year.
I took a look at the even wider disparities for various types of essential workers. My calculations are based on average S&P 500 CEO pay of $18.3 million in 2021 (the most recent figure available), which works out to $8,798 per hour, or $147 per minute.
I started by looking at the fast food workers who often toil straight through the holidays. Most McDonald’s restaurants are open even on Christmas Day. Average pay for this labor force is just $26,060 for the whole year. A typical CEO would bank that by noon on his first day back in the corner office suite.
Then I thought of the home care aides who may be the only people around to cheer up their homebound elderly and disabled clients over the holidays. They earned an average of just $29,260 in 2021. The typical CEO of a big U.S. corporation would pocket that much by lunchtime on his first workday of the year. He’d have to work less than an hour more to make $36,460, the average annual pay for a pre-K teacher.
CEOs would have to put in a couple more hours to earn as much as the annual pay for roofers, many of whom are swamped helping families by taking on the treacherous job of repairing winter storm damage. For this dangerous work, the average roofer made $48,890 in 2021. Auto mechanics who rescue stranded travelers from roadsides and help them get where they need to go make about the same as roofers, with an average annual paycheck of $47,990.
By afternoon tea time—or perhaps early Happy Hour—on January 2, CEOs will have earned as much as the annual pay for another dangerous occupation on which we all depend: firefighters. Their average annual pay of $55,290 is the equivalent of about six hours and 20 minutes of CEO pay time.
These figures are disturbing, but the good news is that Americans increasingly reject the old myth that CEOs make so much money because they’re just that much smarter and harder-working than the rest of us. Public outrage over these extreme pay gaps is now so high that a majority of Americans across the political spectrum favor a cap on CEO pay relative to worker pay, regardless of company performance.
We are seeing broadening support for an array of strategies to address these obscene pay gaps, including proposals to use tax and contracting policies to rein in executive excess. In the New Year, let’s commit to building on this momentum towards a more equitable economy.