I know, I know, we're always hearing about the growing gap between rich and poor, between the haves and the have-nots. Yet sometimes I'm still gobsmacked at by the gross inequities between the economic upper class and those at the bottom of the ladder.
In my new book, "Take It Personally," my good friend Charlie Kernaghan provided a chart of how some of the world's most well-compensated corporate executives' salaries compared with the average Third-World factory worker's wages. For example, CEO Millard Drexler of the Gap made $660 million in 1998 in salary and bonuses (that's over $317,000 an hour, and truly obscene; who in the world is worth that?). Meanwhile, the average factory worker in the Newtex Factory in El Salvador -- where an assortment of Gap and Old Navy apparel is manufactured -- makes 60 cents an hour, which amounts to less than a third of the wage required to meet the most basic cost of living in that country.
But the problem is not limited to Third World workers who are laboring for First World corporate behemoths. "Executive Excess 2001," a report by the Institute for Policy Studies and United for a Fair Economy released this Labor Day, shows that the gap is widening in the US as well. According to researchers, the average compensation in pay, bonuses, and stock options for a chief executive of a major American corporation was 531 times that of the average American hourly worker. Despite the fact the US economy began flagging in earnest in 2000, average CEO compensation went up 18 percent, while the average worker's paycheck only increased by 3 percent. The research shows that, had the minimum wage grown at the same rate as CEO pay in the United States since 1990, it would now be $25.50 an hour, rather than $5.15 an hour.
And if that weren't enough, how about this?
The report also revealed that the CEOs making the fattest wads were those sacking the most employees:
- Disney CEO Michael Eisner pulled down $72.8 million in 2000 while laying off 4,000 workers;
- American Express CEO Harvey Golubgot a 22 percent salary increase after he laid off 6,600 workers;
- Cisco Systems chief John Chambers made $28.7 million in 2000 and laid off 8,500 workers.
CEOs of firms that announced layoffs of 1,000 or more workers in 2000 earned about 80 percent more, on average, than those who didn't, according to analysts.
Yet news of this report was buried in American newspapers and nowhere to be found on its evening newscasts (which is all the more reason we need Project Censored). Why, I ask, are Americans -- and the rest of us, for that matter -- not outraged? Perhaps because what we don't know can't infuriate us.
Read the "Executive Excess 2001" report for yourself here.