134 Americans earned more than $50 million each last year, but U.S. median income near 1999 levels

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NEW YORK — The number of American gazillionaires is on the rise.

Some 134 people each took home more than $50 million in compensation from their jobs last year, according to newly released statistics from the Social Security Administration. That’s up 110 people a year earlier.

Most were high-level executives who left their jobs or retired, cashing in their hefty deferred compensation packages that built up over the years, said David Cay Johnston, who teaches at Syracuse College of Law. Some may also have sold businesses and have to take the proceeds as income. And there may be a few actors and athletes sprinkled in.

The statistics cover cash compensation workers receive on the job. They don’t include the capital gains they may have made from selling stocks, typically a large source of income for the wealthy.

America’s working stiffs, however, haven’t fared as well. Workers’ median wage came in at $28,850, erasing more than a decade of gains.

Though it’s inched up over the past two years, the median wage is just above where it was in 1999. So while employers are hiring, they aren’t boosting wages for new recruits.

“As well-paid workers are leaving the workforce, those being brought in are being paid less,” Johnston said, who first reported the findings in an opinion piece for Al Jazeera America.

On the brighter side, the labor market grew by 4 million workers last year, bringing the total to a record 158.2 million. And they are largely good-paying jobs: Nearly all the new positions paid more than $50,000. The higher up the wage scale, the more jobs were added.

“They have skills that add value or are servants to the very wealthy,” such as bankers and financial services staffers who cater to the rich, Johnston said.


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