Despite the current climate of global instability, the pay of S&P 500 chief executive officers (CEOs) continues to rise even as economic uncertainty increases and the struggle to hire workers worsens.

According to a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) report, S&P 500 CEOs' median pay rose by $14 million in 2021, up from a rise of $13.4 million in 2020. The report also found that only a quarter of CEOs' salaries dropped, while most received a raise of 11% or higher. One-third saw their pay rise by 25% or more.

Still, CEOs' salaries are relatively low compared to their total compensation, which includes “the value of stock awards at the time of grant, along with salary, cash bonuses, perks and some retirement-benefit increases” -- all of which add up to huge sums.

Of selected public companies, two of the highest compensated CEOs are Joseph Bae ($559.64 million) and Scott Nuttall ($523.14 million) of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KRR), a global investment firm.

In Hollywood, Endeavor Group Holdings' CEO Ari Emanuel was compensated $308 million in 2021. Well behind is Discovery’s CEO David Zaslav, who earned $246.57 million, the highest compensation disclosed compared to any S&P 500 CEO who served for a full year in the role.

Behind him is Amazon’s Andy Jassy, who recently reported a rise in total compensation to $212.7 million, and Pat Gelsinger, the CEO of Intel who makes $178.59 million. For tech companies Meta, Alphabet, Microsoft, and Apple, the average compensation for CEOs ranges from $151 million to $220 million per year, according to the Street.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, around one-third of CEOs reported a cut in total compensation, some of which resulted from CEOs choosing to forfeit some of their pay amid the economic uncertainty caused by the virus.

However, the difference in pay between S&P 500 CEOs and their employees is still significant. On average, WSJ reports that S&P 500 CEOs make 186 times more than their employees.

Inflation has jumped as a major concern for global CEOs, with many seeing the issue persisting into 2023
Inflation has jumped as a major concern for global CEOs, with many seeing the issue persisting into 2023 GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA via AFP / JOE RAEDLE